OSHA Safety Exit Requirements: Frequently Asked Questions

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a federal agency of the U.S. that regulates, among other things, the egress safety of commercial buildings. To this end, OSHA has standards that regulate various aspects of building exit routes. Below, we answer frequently asked questions concerning OSHA safety exit standards for building exit routes and the types of signs.

How does OSHA define an exit route?

According to OSHA, an exit route has three parts: an exit access, an exit and an exit discharge. The access is the part of the route that leads to the exit, which is the end portion of the route that connects to the discharge. The discharge must lead directly to a street, open space, walkway, etc. that has enough room to accommodate the number of building occupants that are likely to use the discharge that leads to it.

It should also be noted that only permanent routes are legally acceptable. For example, safety exit routes that temporarily accommodate construction zones do not count toward a building’s required number of routes.

How many routes are required?

Most buildings are required to have two routes. However, depending on their size, layout, and occupant load, some buildings may need more. By the same token, some buildings may need less than two routes. The National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) Life Safety Code addresses the number of exits a building should have in relation to the factors mentioned above.

What type of signage must a route contain?

OSHA requires building exits to be identified by safety exit signs (a.k.a. building exit signs) whose lettering and illumination meet the requirements of OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.37(B) and 29 CFR 1910.37(b)(6), respectively. “No Exit” signs should be placed on doors that could be mistaken for exit-leading doors, and signs that indicate the direction of a route should be posted when the route’s direction becomes unclear (e.g. when a hallway meets another hallway that runs perpendicular).

What are the height and width requirements for routes?

OSHA requires exit routes to be at least 28 inches wide at all points, meaning egress path objects cannot reduce route width to less than 28 inches. Concerning height, routes should be at least 7’6” high at all points. If a building has only one route leading to an exit or a discharge, the width and height of the discharge cannot be less than the width and height of the access.

What are the penalties for OSHA violations?

The penalties for OSHA violations can be severe. For example, a willful violation brings a fine of up to 70,000 dollars for each violation. If a willful violation results in the death of an employee, the person responsible for the violation can be fined up to $250,000 and receive a six-month prison term. A corporation may be fined up to $500,000 for a willful violation resulting in the death of an employee.

OSHA exists to regulate health and safety in the workplace. Its safety exit standards are designed to help building occupants evacuate quickly and safely in the event of emergencies. Adhering to OSHA standards requires vigilance and care, but the price of not adhering to them is indeed costly.

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