What is the Running Man Exit Sign and Where is It Used?

We’re all aware of the classic American emergency exit sign. The one that has been around since 1911 and spells out the word EXIT in bright red lettering. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) went on to create criteria for emergency-exit signage, taking into consideration various contrast levels and evaluating different lettering sizes, eventually publishing the standards adopted by state and local governments across the states. We see these bright signs hovering over doors and corridors within America’s buildings, directing us to safety. But what about the rest of the world? Internationally, many countries have adopted some version of the ISO standard, a symbol deemed the “Running Man exit sign”. Should your building consider implementing the Running Man exit signs?

First, a brief history of exit signs is needed in order to understand how they have evolved and where we are at today. In the United States, it all started in 1911. A huge fire in a downtown Manhattan garment factory killed 146 workers, which sparked NFPA to act on creating a way to get people out of buildings quicker. Thus, the American EXIT sign was born. Early exit signs were made of either metal and lit by a nearby incandescent light bulb or having a white glass cover with “EXIT” written in red, placed directly in front of a single-bulb light fixture. However, in the case of a fire, the power to these lights often failed or were barely visible—rendering them useless for their important job. This evolved to adding red-tinted globes in the emergency exit signs to allow for better visibility.

Through the year’s better emergency EXIT signs have been developed and today we have several options on the market. These include the most popular photoluminescent emergency exit signs and LED emergency exit signs. Jessup Manufacturing’s Glo Brite® emergency exit signs are engineered with photoluminescent material which allows them to absorb and store LED, fluorescent, metal halide or mercury vapor light. Photoluminescent exit signs require no electricity and no maintenance.

But what about the green-lit pictogram Running Man exit sign?

While the bright red EXIT signs were being implemented all over America, the little green lit Running Man exit sign was being developed by a Japanese pictogram designer named Yukio Oto in the late 1970’s. He states that his goal in creating the sign was to communicate to people to “run slowly”. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was ready to adopt a Soviet Union pictogram, but after hearing about the extensive testing Ota put this sign through, ISO decided to take it into consideration. Ota’s sign eventually won out and was adopted for international use in 1985. Ota’s design of the Running Man exit sign is argued to have a couple key advantages over the red EXIT signs:
Exit sign man green

  • It’s green. Red is often the international color meaning danger or don’t touch. Green, on the other hand, is a color of safety and means go all over the world.
  • It’s a pictogram. It’s a universal language with no barriers. Visitors speaking any language are able to understand what a person running through a door in a specific direction means.

Agree or disagree with these statements, they stand at the center of the great emergency exit sign debate that has been brewing for 30+ years now. Throughout the world, exit signs follow ISO standards and use the green pictogram of a figure running and an arrow in the direction of the exit. These signs may also have words in the local language indicating an exit. For these reasons, many countries now use some version of this ISO standard created by Ota.

Australia Makes the Switch to the Running Man Exit Sign

After many European countries, Japan, and others moved away from the EXIT sign, Australia decided to follow suite in 2005.  The National Construction Code (Building Code of Australia) shifted away from the word ‘EXIT’ to the universal pictograph through the introduction of Australian Standard 2293, ‘Emergency escape lighting and exit signs for buildings’. This update brought Australia into line with the international standards outlined in ISO3864-1.

Canada Also Moves to the Running Man Exit Sign

In 2010, Canada’s National Building Code (NBC) made the change to the Running Man exit sign stating that red and white “EXIT” or “OUT” signs needed to be replaced by a sign of a white or green man running towards the emergency exit. The change is largely being driven by the country’s changing demographics and reflects a desire to help those who don’t speak English or French, according to Phil Rizcallah, director of the National Research Council’s building regulations group. The Ontario government now requires every new building or major building renovation undertaken since Jan. 1, 2014 to include these new emergency exit signs.

By implementing the green Running Man emergency exit sign, they believe it will be easier for those visiting or immigrants of the country to understand where to go in case of an emergency. They also include that the signs may also be photoluminescent, which allows them to give off their light without the need for electricity.

Benefits of the Running Man Exit Sign

We briefly mentioned earlier a few potential advantages of the Running Man exit sign. Advocates of the Running Man emergency exit signs debate those and other reasons why they are superior to regular EXIT signs.
Man running green exit sign

  • No matter where it is installed, the Running Man exit sign can be configured to your emergency exit location. The sign can be purchased depicting a Running Man going left (←), right (→) or here (↓). And unlike conventional EXIT signs, the Running Man will never have arrows in two different directions, making it crystal clear on where the quickest path to exit is.
  • Green is a more sensible color then red when it comes to emergency exit signs. The NFPA does acknowledge this point and it is important to note they never mandated the EXIT signs be in red, simply that a contrast exists between the text and the background. Green is thought to mean go and safety, while many state that red indicates stop or harm.
  • It has been argued that the Running Man exit signs are more visible than regular EXIT signs due to the use of imagery and color.

Should Your Building Use the Running Man Exit Sign?

While the NFPA has no plans to substitute the classic American emergency “EXIT” sign anytime soon, you can’t deny the Running Man’s widespread appeal. Many large municipalities, as well as international companies within the United States, have begun to add the ISO Running Man exit signs to better communicate safe exits for international visitors in their buildings. NFPA states they have considered the change on several occasions and although they don’t object to the Running Man emergency exit sign and the green color, they see no reason to make a mandated change.

In fact, NFPA even includes Ota’s ISO Running Man within the group of auxiliary symbols that their members may use and also allows the use of pictograms in tandem with the “EXIT” text, where local jurisdictions allow. However, NFPA says they have no current plans to eliminate the classic “EXIT” sign, which they state works perfectly fine stateside. Still, you will notice more green lit “EXIT” signs are popping up throughout the United States (although red is still the predominant color of choice). Even more, in 2006 New York City amended its fire code to mandate that high-rises include the ISO Running Man pictogram sign on fire doors on each floor.

There is no denying that exit signs play an important role in keeping people across the world safe. Since the Running Man exit sign is not subject to any language barrier, this universal symbol is a smart choice when it comes to optimizing fire safety procedures within a building. As a leader in fire prevention, Jessup Manufacturing is proud to offer a wide range of emergency exit sign options for your facility, including various Running Man exit signs.
 
 
 

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