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OSHA Egress Requirements

By Steve Stephenson May 17, 2013

OSHA Best Practices Guide
OSHA Safety Signs Best Practices Guides

Egress means to exit. What are the OSHA egress requirements, or in other words what requirements does OSHA have for building exits?

The OSHA egress requirements are given in 29 CFR 1926.34, 1926.36 and 1926.37. Standard 1926.34 provides the overall egress requirements for buildings and structures. It states:

1926.34(a) - "General." In every building or structure exits shall be so arranged and maintained as to provide free and unobstructed egress from all parts of the building or structure at all times when it is occupied. No lock or fastening to prevent free escape from the inside of any building shall be installed except in mental, penal, or corrective institutions where supervisory personnel is continually on duty and effective provisions are made to remove occupants in case of fire or other emergency.

1926.34(b) - "Exit marking." Exits shall be marked by a readily visible sign. Access to exits shall be marked by readily visible signs in all cases where the exit or way to reach it is not immediately visible to the occupants.

1926.34(c) - "Maintenance and workmanship." Means of egress shall be continually maintained free of all obstructions or impediments to full instant use in the case of fire or other emergency.

These three paragraphs say it all. OSHA's egress requirements state that people must be able to safely get out of a building during an emergency.  The way out of the building, and the pathways to those exits, must be marked by signs.  And the emergency exits must be maintained and never be blocked.

Be sure that all emergency egress signs are durable and meet OSHA requirements for legibility and visibility. That means making sure you are using a DuraLabel printer and tough-tested DuraLabel supplies.  Call 888.326.9244 today for more information and free samples.

OSHA's Egress Requirements - What Needs To Be Done?

OSHA 1926.34 defines in general what needs to be done. The other two OSHA standards covering egress requirements specifically describe how the requirements of 1926.34 are to be accomplished:

  • 1910.36(a) - Exit routes must meet certain design and construction requirements.
  • 1910.36(b) - The number of exit routes must be adequate.
  • 1910.36(c) - Specifies the exit discharge.
  • 1910.36(d) - Exit doors must be unlocked.
  • 1910.36(e) - A side-hinged exit door must be used.
  • 1910.36(f) - The capacity of the exit routes must be adequate.
  • 1910.36(g) - An exit route must meet minimum height and width requirements.
  • 1910.36(h) - An outdoor exit route is permitted.
  • 1910.37(a) - The danger to employees must be minimized.
  • 1910.37(b) - Lighting and marking must be adequate and appropriate.
  • 1910.37(c) - The fire retardant properties of paints or solutions must be maintained.
  • 1910.37(d) - Exit routes must be maintained during construction, repairs, or alterations.
  • 1910.37(e) - An employee alarm system must be operable.

OSHA's Egress Requirements - What Is An Exit Route?

There must be a continuous and unobstructed path leading to an exit, or point of safety, from any point within a workplace. OSHA talks about "egress requirements" because the word "exit" is used in three ways:

  1. Exit access - the portion of an  exit route that leads to an exit.
  2. The exit - a protected portion of an exit route, separated from other areas in the building, that leads to the exit discharge.
  3. Exit discharge - goes directly to the outside, or to a walkway, refuge area, public way, or open space with access to the outside.

These three when combined are called the exit route. An exit route includes the exit access, the exit, and the exit discharge.

Exit Route Egress Requirements

A workplace must have at least two exit routes. The egress requirements are that there must be sufficient exit routes such that a prompt evacuation of employees, and other building occupants, can be accomplished. This means that more than two exit routes are required, if the number of employees, the size of the building, or the arrangement of the workplace requires more exit routes for there to be a prompt and safe evacuation of all people in the building.

In addition, exit routes need to be located such that, if one area of the building is blocked by fire or smoke, other exit routes are available.

However, OSHA egress requirements are practical. For example, if it does not make sense to have two exit routes, then there is an exception to that requirement. If the number of employees, the size of the building, its occupancy, or the arrangement of the workplace allows everyone to evacuate safely during an emergency, then having one exit route is permitted.

Exit Route Design Requirements

The following are some of the key OSHA egress requirements for the design and construction of exit routes:

  • Exit discharges must lead directly to the outside of the building, an open area with access to the outside (such as a lobby), or to a refuge area.  Each exit discharge area must be sufficiently large enough to accommodate everyone who is likely to use the  exit route.
  • Exit routes must be designed such that people do not need to travel toward a high-hazard area, unless that path of travel is effectively shielded from the high-hazard area.
  • If a exit stairwell continues beyond the exit discharge level, the discharge must be separated from the additional levels by a door, partition, or other means that clearly directs travel to the exit discharge.
  • Exit route doors must be unlocked from the inside. There must not be any devices (such as an alarm system) that could restrict use of the exit route should the device fail.
  • Rooms within a building must be connected to exit routes using side-hinged doors. If a room holds more than 50 people, or is a high-hazard area, the door must swing out in the direction of exit travel.
  • Throughout its entire length the exit route must be able to handle the maximum permitted occupancy (numbers of people) for the floors it serves.
  • The ceilings of  exit routes must be at least 7-1/2 feet high.
  • All exit access points must be a minimum of 28 inches wide. There must not be any objects that project into the exit that reduce its width.
  • Outdoor  exit routes are permitted but must meet the minimum height and width requirement for indoor exit routes and they must:
    • have guardrails to protect unenclosed sides, if a fall hazard exists.
    • be covered, if snow or ice is likely to accumulate, unless it can be demonstrated that accumulations will be removed before a slipping hazard exists.
    • be reasonably straight and have smooth, solid, substantially level walkways.
    • not have a dead-end longer than 20 feet.
  • Exits must be separated from the main part of the building by fire resistant materials:
    • a one-hour fire-resistance rating is required, if the exit connects three or fewer stories.
    • a two-hour fire-resistance rating is required, if the exit connects more than three floors.
  • Exits may only have the openings needed to allow access to the exit from occupied areas of the workplace, and for the exit discharge. Exit openings must be protected by a self-closing fire door that remains closed in an emergency.

OSHA's Egress Requirements – Maintenance and Operational Features

OSHA standards require employers to maintain exit routes. They must:

  • Keep exit routes free of explosive or highly flammable materials, furnishings or decorations.
  • Ensure that exit routes are not obstructed:
    • Exit routes must not be blocked by locked doors.
    • Exit routes must not be blocked by materials or  equipment.
    • Keep exit route doors must be free of decorations or signs that obscure their visibility.
  • Ensure that all safeguards that protect people during an emergency remain in good working order.
  • Provide adequate lighting, including emergency lighting, for all exit routes.
  • Post exit route signs:
    • Use signs along the exit pathway to indicate the direction of travel to the nearest exit and exit discharge.
    • If the direction to an exit is not immediately apparent, a clearly visible exit sign must be used.
    • Doors or passages along an exit access, that could be mistaken for an exit, must be marked as “Not an Exit” or with a sign identifying their use.
    • “EXIT” signs in plainly legible letters, should be visible during a power failure. (Use DuraLabel BoldGlow phosphorescent tape to make your EXIT signs.)
  • Renew fire-retardant paints or solutions on a regular schedule so as to maintain their fire-retardant properties.
  • Maintain the availability of exit routes during any construction, repairs, or building alterations.
  • Provide an emergency alarm system to warn employees that they must exit the building, unless everyone can promptly see or smell a fire, or other hazard, in time to safely exit the building.

Meeting OSHA's egress requirements can be summed up as ensuring that everyone in a building can quickly and safely get out of the building during an emergency. Emergencies, by their nature, are not a common occurrence. Don't allow your exit routes to be forgotten, ignored or blocked just because nothing has happened in the past ten years. Don't let complacency lead to potential injuries or fatalities. Keep your exit routes in compliance with all of OSHA's egress requirements.

The information presented in this document was obtained from sources that we deem reliable; Graphic Products does not guarantee accuracy or completeness. Graphic Products, Inc. makes no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied. Users of this document should consult municipal, state, and federal code and/or verify all information with the appropriate regulatory agency.

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