How Safe Are Your Fire Exit Signs?
Fire Prevention Week takes place from October 7-13 this year, promoting fire safety throughout communities and encouraging everyone to take action to be safe. The National Fire Protection Association is the official sponsor and continues to focus on home safety this year, as a majority of U.S. fire deaths— four out of five— occur at home each year. However, commercial locations should also take note and use this week as a time to review fire safety procedures and equipment within their buildings. The truth is the fire death rate was 10 percent higher in 2016 than in 1980. And with this year’s theme, Look. Listen. Learn. Be aware. Fire can happen anywhere.™, it’s a great time for all building owners to assess their fire safety procedures and products. Fire exits are a great place to start your assessment because reviewing them can be simple. Even better, with the latest emergency exit sign options available, updating them can be just as simple.
Before You Assess Your Fire Exits
Before you start assessing your buildings fire exits, make sure you understand the general requirements and regulations for them. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and NFPA have created numerous regulations and requirements for emergency exits in commercial buildings. First, know that an exit is defined as an unobstructed path for exiting any place in a building to a public way per OSHA and the NFPA in 29 CFR 1910.35 and that all exit signs must be clear of decorations, equipment which may impair visibility to means of an exit. Next, the requirements for the illumination of exit signs are set out by the NFPA in their life safety code, or NFPA 101. It dictates that all signs should be lit under the following standards:
- Every sign required should be suitably illuminated via a reliable source of light. Externally illuminated, internally illuminated, and photoluminescent illuminated signs are all permissible.
- There must be at least 1.5 hours of emergency light if the building lighting fails.
- The provided emergency lighting should put out light that is at least an average of 1.0 foot-candle, and never less than 0.1 foot-candle. The regulation also sets out standards for the decline of the strength of light and uniformity ratio of that light.
- If a photoluminescent sign is used, a light must be provided to charge that sign so that if the lights go out, the sign will stay illuminated for at least 1.5 hours.
- Any signs with internal illumination should be listed and comply with the standards of UL 924. UL 924 is the agreed-upon standard for power equipment as well as emergency lighting, set by Underwriters Laboratories (an organization devoted to product safety).
Depending on your location, your city or state will also have various requirements regarding your fire exits.
Top Fire Exit Sign Concerns
- Water or Outdoor Elements: When it comes to wet locations or outside areas in need of exit signs, you’ll want to make sure your exit sign can withstand all types of weather. From negative temperatures that bring freezing rain and ice to the extreme heat of the desert, finding a 100% weatherproof exit sign can be difficult. One of the top concerns with outdoor exit signs is visibility at night; so you should review how visible, clear, and bright your fire exit signs are once the sun goes down. Any wet location (which all outdoor locations are considered wet locations), should be waterproof, which eliminates most electrical options. If you’re planning to install new outdoor exit signs or wet location exit signs, consider putting in a fire exit sign that contains photoluminescent technology. Photoluminescent exit signs allow the outdoor exit sign or wet location exit sign to be installed without electricity and absorb energy which is then emitted when needed at night or in case of a fire or power outage situation.
- Tritium Exit Signs: Tritium exit signs were introduced decades ago as a wireless exit sign option. However, given the updated technology and evolution of exit signs, these are no longer the safest wireless fire exit sign on the market. Consider replacing tritium exit signs with photoluminescent exit signs. This technology offers one of the only non-radioactive, wireless options that can also boast zero energy consumption and zero maintenance needs with an eco-friendly, green alternative design. In fact, with the impact it had in the 9/11 tragedy and other non-related incidents, New York City passed New York Law 26 in 2004, which enforced the use of this technology in all buildings over 72 feet high. Several years after that, the International Building Code and International Fire Code were revised to mandate the use of photoluminescent technology in new and existing high-rise buildings. Even more, purchasing tritium exit signs is no longer an option in any country other than the United States and a few lagging non-European countries.
- Brightness: When it comes to the brightness of your fire exit sign, you want to make sure it is perfectly visible when it matters the most. NFPA 101 states that all exit signs should be lit under the following standard: every sign required should be suitably illuminated via a reliable source of light. This is considered a 5-foot candle illumination. Battery backup emergency exit signs will have a small “push to test” button somewhere on the casing. You can push and hold this button for thirty seconds to test the bulbs. Why thirty seconds? Many defective batteries will maintain just enough charge to fully light up the bulbs for a few seconds, but they will quickly lose power. If you don’t test for thirty seconds you may find that the lights work each month, only to find that they go out in just a few seconds when you really need them. By testing the lights for at least thirty seconds you can make sure the batteries don’t just have a “surface charge”. If this sounds time-consuming, consider switching out your exit signs for some of the most low maintenance exit signs on the market today- photoluminescent exit signs. Running completely off of the light they absorb, they do not contain batteries and are reliable for 25+ years. After full “charging”, it takes about 16 – 96 hours in total darkness for a photoluminescent sign to fully discharge, therefore less concern of the fire exit sign not shining brightly and working properly when it needs to the most.
- Maintenance: Many exit signs on the market contain moving parts, require the use of electricity, and might contain consumables to be aware of. You will want to make sure to be on top of their maintenance to ensure they are working properly. Maintenance costs are also less with photoluminescent safety signs. Just like a normal lamp, most electric exit signs are illuminated through the use of light bulbs – and as we know, light bulbs burn out over time. There are no bulbs to replace with photoluminescent exit signs, and once installed they are easily maintained for 25+ years. If you have photoluminescent exit signs, you will find they require virtually no maintenance, but should still be inspected on a regular basis and kept free of dirt and debris with simple cleaning off with soap and water. Photoluminescent exit-sign maintenance typically consists of verifying that charging lights are operational and performing periodic wipe-downs with a damp cloth. Also, be sure to check with your state and city on their own requirements for testing and maintaining your fire exit signs.
- Placement: This can often be overlooked, but the placement of your fire exit signs and non-exit signs are essential to a safe evacuation. NFPA 101 requires that exit signs be installed not less than 80 inches above the finished floor to the bottom of the sign. For ADA compliance, additional exit signs must be installed on the wall adjacent to the latch side of the door as required by the 2010 ADA Standards section 216.4. The mounting height must be 60 inches above the finished floor to the centerline of the sign. Placement of signs indicating “Not an Exit” plays a similar role as exit signs. Doors that may be mistaken for an exit need to have a “Not an Exit” sign to avoid and prevent any confusion.
By understanding the requirements and regulations for your buildings fire exit signs and taking the time to do a proper assessment of all your fire exits and their signs, you will be ensuring your property is a safer place for everyone to be. The NFPA suggests that through three simple calls-to-action, people can significantly reduce their risk to fire and be prepared in the event of one:
- LOOK: Look for places fire could start. Take a good look around your home. Identify potential fire hazards and take care of them.
- LISTEN: Listen for the sound of the smoke alarm. You could have only minutes to escape safely once the smoke alarm sounds. Go to your outside meeting place, which should be a safe distance from the home and where everyone should know to meet.
- LEARN: Learn two ways out of every room and make sure all doors and windows leading outside open easily and are free of clutter.
Always make sure that you specify an exit sign that is UL 924 Listed, and install it per NFPA 101 and local codes. Contact Jessup Manufacturing to discuss your options for fire exit signs and egress systems today.