When emergency exits and evacuation routes are not clearly marked in public spaces, patrons’ lives are put at risk for injury and death in building fires, explosions, and other dangerous incidents.
Emergency Evacuation Exits
In public buildings, emergency exits often mean the difference between life and death when people must evacuate quickly. Thousands of people die in building fires and explosions each year because emergency exits are not clearly marked, blocked by objects, or locked. Within the past few years, numerous deaths have occurred in nightclub fires and warehouse explosions where people were trapped inside. The highly-publicized Station Fire at a Rhode Island nightclub killed 100 people when flammable soundproofing tiles behind the stage ignited quickly and filled the space with fire and black smoke with three minutes. The Station had no sprinkler system and no visible emergency exits.
Emergency Evacuation Procedures
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets clear safety standards for emergency exit routes in public buildings. According to OSHA regulations, public buildings must have at least two clearly marked exit routes to permit quick evacuation in an emergency. Exit routes must be located as far apart as possible to provide safe access for all occupants, in case one exit route is blocked by fire or smoke. Other requirements include:
- Exits must contain a side-hinged exit door that remains unlocked at all times. Interior doors that connect to an exit route must swing outward in the direction of travel. Any doors or passages that can be mistaken for an exit should be marked as “NOT AN EXIT.”
- Exit routes must be a minimum of 28 inches wide and free from obstructions. Line of sight to the exit sign must be clearly visible at all times. Adequate lighting (including emergency lighting) must be provided, so patrons with normal vision can see along the exit route.
- Exits must be clearly visible and marked by a sign reading “EXIT.” Signs must be illuminated with a reliable light source and a distinctive color, usually red or orange.
- Exits must lead directly outside to a walkway, street, or refuge area with no dead ends longer than 20 feet. If exit doors open directly onto an area with vehicle traffic or fall hazards, warning signs and/or barriers are required.
- Exits must be properly covered in areas where snow and ice may block exit routes and present accident and injury risks for patrons.