Emergency exits are a crucial part of any workplace. But do you know exactly what the legal regulations entail, and how emergency exit doors are equipped to meet them? Today we’ll be going over what you need to know about emergency exit requirements in order to ensure compliance as well as safety.
Remember that the whole point of an emergency exit is to remove people from a hazard as quickly as possible. Potential hazard concerns are primarily fire, smoke, and heat, hazards such as uncontained chemicals or active shooters are also good reasons to put some effort into your emergency exit.
We’ll be basing the info in this article off the requirements for emergency exits in the workplace published by OSHA, the main workplace safety body in the United States. Most commercial facilities can follow OSHA guidelines and be compliant, but it’s worth double-checking any local or industry-specific regulations that might affect you in particular.
Design And Construction Requirements for Emergency Exit
Your emergency exit route(s) must be part of the permanent construction of the building–i.e., a door, not just a hole in the wall!
The emergency exit must also be made of fire-resistant materials. Buildings with three or fewer stories must have doors, frames, and hardware with one-hour fire resistance ratings; buildings with four or more must have exits with two-hour fire resistance ratings. These doors also need to be approved or listed by a nationally recognized testing lab.
Per OSHA, “Openings into an exit must be limited.” This is a slightly confusing way to say that there can only be one passage in and out; essentially, the exit needs to be an unambiguous way out. Multiple doors or passages can confuse people, especially in a rushed, stressful emergency situation.
Number of Exit Requirements
Along with fire-resistant materials and clear egress, emergency exits need to be adequate in number to match the dimensions and personnel of the building–enough lifeboats for the Titanic, as it were.
Generally, this means each workplace or facility needs two different emergency exits that are not close to each other, in order to make it possible to escape from different parts of the facility easily, and in case fire or smoke blocks one of them.
However, larger buildings with more occupants or employees may need more than two exits in order to allow all the people within to evacuate safely and quickly. And in general, it’s better to have more rather than fewer exits in larger buildings.
Where Does the Emergency Exit Lead?
In OSHA parlance, this is the exit discharge. Basically, the emergency exit must lead directly into an outdoor area–a street, walkway, or open space that is large enough to allow the exiting people plenty of room.
Also, if the emergency exit is located on a staircase that extends above or below, the door of the exit must be clearly marked and partitioned off, in order to clearly show what direction of travel leads to the exit.
Keep the Exit Open
The emergency exit must also be unlocked from the inside, and people who need to use it should be able to do so without needing keys, tools, or special knowledge. The exit can’t be outfitted to automatically be locked or restricted in an emergency.
Even in penal or correctional facilities, exits can only be locked from the inside if a supervisor is always monitoring the door and any potential need for its use, and if the management has an evacuation plan in place to get inmates out of danger in an emergency.
Emergency Exit Clearance
Size wise, emergency exit clearance needs to be at least 28 inches wide, with ceilings that are at least 7 feet and 6 inches high. This is to prevent “clogging” during an egress by allowing the average human body plenty of room in which to move.
The exit door also needs to be side-hinged and should swing outwards in the direction of travel.
Outdoor Exit Routes
Emergency exits in the workplace can have outdoor portions, but they need to have guardrails if there is fall risk, never be obstructed by snow and ice or be promptly cleared if they do accumulate, and have a straight and level surface.
The clearance of the outdoor exit must also be the same or larger than the indoor emergency exit clearance, that is, 28 inches wide and 7 feet 6 inches tall.
Obstructions to Emergency Exits
The path of egress to the exit also cannot go through places that have lots of obstructions, because quick and smooth egress is key to safe evacuations. So the path to your emergency exit door can’t go through these:
Additionally, the signage that indicates where the emergency exit is cannot be covered or obstructed by curtains, posters, furniture, etc. The visual path to the exit must be clear at all times.
These routes and the exits themselves should have good lighting, be clear of flammable and explosive materials, and avoid any high-hazard areas within the building.
That’s a lot of material, but in this case every OSHA regulation regarding emergency exit clearance, construction, and procedure are based on common sense.
Most new construction these days have emergency exits and emergency egress paths baked into their floor plan, but it’s good to familiarize yourself with the specifics in order to have a safe and legal emergency exit!