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Emergency Standards Design and Construction Requirements for Exit Routes

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OSHA's Exit Route Examples

See OSHA's Demonstrative Exit Routes #1 and #2 to learn how to apply the OSHA standards for exit routes. For further assistance, consult NFPA 101, Life Safety Code.

This section contains requirements for the design and construction of exit routes. It includes a requirement that exit routes be permanent, addresses fire resistance-ratings of construction materials used in exit stairways (exits), describes openings into exits, defines the minimum number of exit routes in workplaces, addresses exit discharges, and discusses locked exit route doors, and exit route doors. It also addresses the capacity, height and width of exit routes, and finally, it sets forth requirements for exit routes that are outside a building.

Exit routes must meet the following design and construction requirements [29 CFR 1910.36(a)]:

Demonstration #1

[In the image above, there is an exit hallway leading to a set of double doors marked with an "Exit" sign. The wall to the right has an opening. The wall to the left has two openings. Against the right side wall is a large planter marked with a number 1; The double doors are marked with a number 2; To the left, in the first opening, is a set of stairs marked with a number 3; The first opening is marked with a number 4; The ceiling in the middle of the hallway is marked with a number 5; Adjacent to the opening on the left side wall is a second opening with a sign above, "Chemical Stock Room" with a hazard triangle, marked with a number 6.]

  1. Furnishings and Decorations [Rollover image includes white lines which enclose the plantar in front of the double doors]. Each exit route must be free of decorations that obscure the visibility of the exit route door. [29 CFR 1910.37(b)(3)]
  2. Access to Exits [Rollover image includes a white rectangle which encloses the double doors]. Each exit must be clearly visible and marked by a sign reading "Exit". [29 CFR 1910.37(b)(2)]
  3. Discharge From Exits [Rollover image includes a white arrow with the text stairs which appears in the hallway pointing through the left side opening to the stairs]. Exit stairs that continue beyond the level on which the exit discharge is located must be interrupted at that level by doors, partitions, or other effective means that clearly indicate the direction of travel leading to the exit discharge. [29 CFR 1910.36(c)(3)]
  4. Exit Marking [Rollover image includes a white rectangle which encloses the left side wall opening]. Each doorway or passageway along an exit access that could be mistaken fro an exit must be marked "Not an Exit" or similar designation, or be identified by a sign indicating its actual use (e.g., closet). [29 CFR 1910.37(b)(5)]
  5. Exit Marking [Rollover image includes a white rectangle which encloses the "Exit" sign and the security camera above the double doors]. If the direction of travel to the exit or exit discharge is not immediately apparent, signs must be posted along the exit access indicating the direction of travel to the nearest exit and exit discharge. Additionally, the line-of-sight to an exit sign must clearly be visible at all times. [29 CFR 1910.37(b)(4)]
  6. Access to Exits [Rollover image includes white lines which enclose the second wall opening on the left side and the sign above, "Chemical Stock Room" with a hazard triangle]. Exit routes must be arranged so that employees will not have to travel toward a high hazard area, unless the path of travel is effectively shielded from the high hazard area by suitable partitions or other physical barriers. [29 CFR 1910.37(a)(2)]
Demonstration #2

[In the upper left hand corner, there is a hanging ceiling light with inadequate lighting that is marked with a number 1; to the right is an Exit sign in letters that are too small that is marked with a number 2; further along the wall are pipes hanging from the ceiling marked with a number 3; on the far right side is a door marked with a sign saying Production Area that is marked with a number 5. Access to the stairway on the opposite wall is blocked by a large receptacle with laundry. The stairway is marked with a number 4, and a janitor's cart is also blocking access to the stairway.]

  1. Exit Lighting. Each exit route must be adequately lighted so that an employee with normal vision can see along the exit route. [29 CFR 1910.37(b)(1)]
  2. Exit Marking. Each exit sign must have the word "Exit" in plainly legible letters not less than six inches (15.2 cm) high, with the principal strokes of the letters in the word "Exit" not less than three-fourths of an inch (1.9 cm) wide. [29 CFR 1910.37(b)(7)]
  3. Adequate Headroom. The ceiling of an exit route must be at least seven feet six inches (2.3 m) high. Any projection from the ceiling must not reach a point less than six feet eight inches (2.0 m) from the floor. [29 CFR 1910.36(g)(1)]
  4. Access to Exits. Exit routes must be free and unobstructed. No materials or equipment may be placed, either permanently or temporarily, within the exit route. The exit access must not go through a room that can be locked, such as a bathroom, to reach an exit or exit discharge, nor may it lead into a dead-end corridor. Stairs or a ramp must be provided where the exit route is not substantially level. [29 CFR 1910.37(a)(3)]
  5. Access to Exits. The door that connects any room to an exit route must swing out in the direction of exit travel if the room is designed to be occupied by more than 50 people or if the room is a high hazard area (i.e., contains contents that are likely to burn with extreme rapidity or explode). [29 CFR 1910.36(e)(2)]

An exit route is a continuous and unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety. An exit route consists of three parts:

  • Exit access - portion of an exit route that leads to an exit. [29 CFR 1910.36(a)(3)]
  • Exit - portion of an exit route that is generally separated from other areas to provide a protected way of travel to the exit discharge.
  • 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.

An exit route must be permanent. Each exit route must be a permanent part of the workplace. [29 CFR 1910.36(a)(1)]

An exit must be separated by fire resistant materials. Construction materials used to separate an exit from other parts of the workplace must have a one-hour fire resistance-rating if the exit connects three or fewer stories and a two-hour fire resistance-rating if the exit connects four or more stories. [29 CFR 1910.36(a)(2)]

Openings into an exit must be limited. An exit is permitted to 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 upon the sounding of a fire alarm or employee alarm system. Each fire door, including its frame and hardware, must be listed or approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. Section 29 CFR 1910.155(c)(3)(iv)(A) of this part defines "listed" and Appendix A of section 29 CFR 1910.7 defines a "nationally recognized testing laboratory". [29 CFR 1910.36(a)(3)]

The number of exit routes must be adequate. [29 CFR 1910.36(b)]

At least two exit routes must be available in a workplace to permit prompt evacuation of employees and other building occupants during an emergency, except as allowed in paragraph (b)(3) of this section. The exit routes must be located as far away as practical from each other so that if one exit route is blocked by fire or smoke, employees can evacuate using the second exit route. [29 CFR 1910.36(b)(1)]

More than two exit routes must be available in a workplace if the number of employees, the size of the building, its occupancy, or the arrangement of the workplace is such that all employees would not be able to evacuate safely during an emergency. [29 CFR 1910.36(b)(2)]

A single exit route is permitted where the number of employees, the size of the building, its occupancy, or the arrangement of the workplace is such that all employees would be able to evacuate safely during an emergency. [29 CFR 1910.36(b)(3)]

Note to paragraph: For assistance in determining the number of exit routes necessary for your workplace, consult NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. [29 CFR 1910.36(b)]

Each exit discharge must lead directly outside or to a street, walkway, refuge area, public way, or open space with access to the outside. [29 CFR 1910.36(c)(1)]

The street, walkway, refuge area, public way, or open space to which an exit discharge leads must be large enough to accommodate the building occupants likely to use the exit route. [29 CFR 1910.36(c)(2)]

Exit stairs that continue beyond the level on which the exit discharge is located must be interrupted at that level by doors, partitions, or other effective means that clearly indicate the direction of travel leading to the exit discharge. [29 CFR 1910.36(c)(3)]

An exit door must be unlocked from the inside. [29 CFR 1910.36(d)]

Employees must be able to open an exit route door from the inside at all times without keys, tools, or special knowledge. A device such as a panic bar that locks only from the outside is permitted on exit discharge doors. [29 CFR 1910.36(d)(1)]

Exit route doors must be free of any device or alarm that could restrict emergency use of the exit route if the device or alarm fails. [29 CFR 1910.36(d)(2)]

An exit route door may be locked from the inside only in mental, penal, or correctional facilities and then only if supervisory personnel are continuously on duty and the employer has a plan to remove occupants from the facility during an emergency. [29 CFR 1910.36(d)(3)]

A side-hinged exit door must be used. [29 CFR 1910.36(e)]

A side-hinged door must be used to connect any room to an exit route. [29 CFR 1910.36(e)(1)]

The door that connects any room to an exit route must swing out in the direction of exit travel if the room is designed to be occupied by more than 50 people or if the room is a high hazard area (i.e., contains contents that are likely to burn with extreme rapidity or explode). [29 CFR 1910.36(e)(2)]

The capacity of an exit route must be adequate. [29 CFR 1910.36(f)]

Exit routes must support the maximum permitted occupant load for each floor served. [29 CFR 1910.36(f)(1)]

The capacity of an exit route may not decrease in the direction of exit route travel to the exit discharge. [29 CFR 1910.36(f)(2)]

Note to paragraph: Information regarding "Occupant load" is located in NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. [29 CFR 1910.36(f)]

An exit route must meet minimum height and width requirements. [29 CFR 1910.36(g)]

The ceiling of an exit route must be at least seven feet six inches (2.3 m) high. Any projection from the ceiling must not reach a point less than six feet eight inches (2.0 m) from the floor. [29 CFR 1910.36(g)(1)]

An exit access must be at least 28 inches (71.1 cm) wide at all points. Where there is only one exit access leading to an exit or exit discharge, the width of the exit and exit discharge must be at least equal to the width of the exit access. [29 CFR 1910.36(g)(2)]

The width of an exit route must be sufficient to accommodate the maximum permitted occupant load of each floor served by the exit route. [29 CFR 1910.36(g)(3)]

Objects that project into the exit route must not reduce the width of the exit route to less than the minimum width requirements for exit routes. [29 CFR 1910.36(g)(4)]

An outdoor exit route is permitted. [29 CFR 1910.36(h)]

The outdoor exit route must have guardrails to protect unenclosed sides if a fall hazard exists. [29 CFR 1910.36(h)(1)]

The outdoor exit route must be covered if snow or ice is likely to accumulate along the route, unless the employer can demonstrate that any snow or ice accumulation will be removed before it presents a slipping hazard. [29 CFR 1910.36(h)(2)]

The outdoor exit route must be reasonably straight and have smooth, solid, substantially level walkways. [29 CFR 1910.36(h)(3)]

The outdoor exit route must not have a dead-end that is longer than 20 feet (6.2 m). [29 CFR 1910.36(h)(4)]

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