Special Topics in Safety Management

Exit Routes: No Escaping These OSHA Regs

Knowing where workplace exit routes are located and how to safely evacuate in an emergency could mean the difference between life and death for your employees. Today we’ll cover some of the key requirements of OSHA’s exit route rules.

As an employer, you are responsible for ensuring that employees know what to do in an emergency and how to evacuate the workplace if disaster strikes. All employers in general industry workplaces must comply with OSHA’s emergency preparedness and response rules concerning exit routes (except for mobile workplaces such as vehicles or vessels).

Here, excerpted from our sister website Safety.BLR.com, are some of the key elements of the OSHA rules.

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An exit route must be a permanent part of every workplace. An exit route means a continuous and unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety (including refuge areas). An exit route consists of:

  • The exit access (portion of the exit route that leads to the exit, such as a corridor that leads to an exit stairway)
  • The exit (protected way of travel to the exit discharge, such as an enclosed stairway from upper floors that leads to the discharge to the outside)
  • The exit discharge (part of the exit route that leads directly outside or to a street, walkway, refuge area, public way, or open space with access to the outside)

Construction materials and configuration

An exit route includes all vertical and horizontal areas along the route. It must have only those openings necessary to allow access to the exit from occupied areas of the workplace or to the exit discharge. An opening into an exit must be protected by a self-closing fire door that remains closed or automatically closes in an emergency when a fire alarm or employee alarm system is activated.

Fire-resistance rating

Construction materials used to separate an exit from other parts of the workplace must have a 1-hour fire-resistance rating if the exit connects three or fewer stories and a 2-hour fire-resistance rating if the exit connects four or more stories.

Minimum number of exit routes

In most cases, at least two exit routes must be available for every employee, and they should be located as far away from each other as possible to allow escape in the event one exit is blocked. A single exit route is allowed if the size of the workforce and the size of the building and workplace are configured to allow safe evacuation of all employees from one exit.

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Building and fire codes require a certain number of exit routes and certain types of exit routes, depending on a number of factors. Larger buildings may have many exit routes. In all cases, a sufficient number and capacity of exit routes must be available to evacuate all employees safely during an emergency.

Exit route accessibility and capacity

Employees must be able to open an exit route door from the inside at all times without keys, tools, or special knowledge. A side-hinged exit door must be used. The capacity of the exit route must be adequate for all employees to evacuate on each floor, and it must meet minimum height and width requirements. An outdoor exit route is permitted.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the maintenance, safeguards, markings, and operational features of exit routes, and we’ll show you a tool that will help you easily verify—or achieve—compliance with these OSHA regulations.