Section 3.0: Exits


Exits from a building are considered to be the most important factor in protecting life from fire. Included in the reference section are key evacuation guidelines that provide information on exit paths and exit doors.


3.1. Exit paths must be clearly identifiable and clearly marked with visible signs if the path is not immediately apparent.  Floor markings and arrows are often used to direct people to the emergency exit doors.
3.2. Exit paths must be clear and consideration must be given to adequate path width for occupancy.  Exit paths should not be routed through boiler rooms and other high hazard areas.
3.3. Exit paths and exit doors must be distinguishable during emergency conditions.   Exit doors must be marked and illuminated to provide a visible sign during emergencies.  Exit paths must be illuminated to assist people in traveling to the emergency exit doors.  All illumination must be reliable during an emergency.
3.4. Doors and paths that can be mistaken for exits must be appropriately marked to prevent employees from entering during an emergency.  Such doors and paths should be clearly posted to prevent entry.
3.5. All exit doors must be free to open.  Exit doors must be side-hinged and swing in the direction of the exit path to allow for quick exiting.
3.6. Revolving, sliding, and overhead doors are prohibited from serving as emergency exit doors.  Such doors will not allow adequate and safe discharge from a building.
3.7. Exit doors must open and swing in the direction of exit travel and employees must be able to open the door without any special knowledge or hardware such as keys.
3.8. Exit doors leading to streets or other areas where vehicles are present must be posted to alert employees of hazard.  If possible, barriers or guards should be placed on the exit discharge to protect the employee from vehicles.  Guardrails are often used to direct the employees out of danger.
3.9. All exit paths and doors must be kept clear at all times.  Daily and weekly inspections should be conducted to ensure the area is free of obstructions on the exit paths, exit door, and discharge area.
3.10. As a minimum requirement, two exits must be provided for each floor, and the recommended distance to the exit should be no more than 200 feet in an unsprinkled industrial general building.  The number and distance to an emergency exit will vary by the type of hazards in the plant.
3.11. Construction and repair of a building often creates hazards that interfere with emergency evacuation of a building.  Special consideration must be given to all construction and repair to ensure that two remote exits for emergencies are available for employees.
3.12. All stairways should be kept free of obstructions.  Local fire codes mandate the fire resistance rating of stairwell doors and stairwells.
3.13. The exit discharge and path must be kept clear of obstructions.
3.14. Emergency lights must be available to illuminate emergency exit paths.  All emergency lighting must be maintained and tested frequently.
3.15. All employees must know how to safely evacuate from their work areas during emergencies.  Employees must be aware of alarm signals, primary/secondary exit routes, and assembly areas.


Consider the following general provisions when planning for a building evacuation:

  • Do not design exits and other safeguards to depend solely on any single safeguard. Provide additional safeguards in case of human or mechanical failure.
  • Exit doors must withstand fire and smoke during the length of time for which they are designed to be in use. Enclose or protect vertical exits and other vertical openings to afford reasonable safety to occupants while they use the exits.
  • Provide alternate exits and pathways in case one exit is blocked by fire. Also, provide exits that the disabled can use.
  • Provide alarm systems to alert occupants of fire or another emergency.
  • Provide exits and paths of travel with adequate lighting to reach the exits.
  • Mark exits with a readily-visible sign. Mark access to exits with readily-visible signs whenever the exit or way to reach it is not readily visible.
  • To protect exiting personnel, safeguard equipment and areas of any unusual hazard that might spread fire or smoke.
  • Practice an orderly exit-drill procedure.
  • Select an interior finish and contents that prevent a fire from spreading fast and trapping occupants.
  • Maintain adequate aisles in exit pathways.
  • Provide adequate space outside the building's exit.
  • Install exit doors at minimum widths according to local code.

All exits must discharge to a clear and unobstructed path of travel on a public way. Where there is evidence of parked vehicles or other obstructions, signs or barriers should be erected to discourage the practice. Barriers should not obstruct the flow of persons exiting from the building.

Exits must be clearly illuminated, identified, and accessible. You should establish the habit of opening every exit door to be sure it is unlocked, works freely, latches properly, is labeled when required, swings in the direction of egress travel when required, and that self-closing or automatic-closing devices and mechanisms function properly.

Where pilferage might be a problem, means other than locking are available to prevent unauthorized use of exits. Special locking devices do not prevent the door from opening; they merely delay opening and sound an alarm. Special locking arrangements should not be used in high hazard areas.

Where exit stairs are required to be enclosed, the enclosure and its protected openings must be of the proper fire-resistance ratings. Handrails must be secure and stair treads and landings should be slip-resistant. Stairways cannot be used for storage or any other purpose and must be illuminated.

Every worker must have access to two or more remotely-located exits. The path of travel must be clear, illuminated, unobstructed, and as direct as possible without exceeding maximum travel distances. Where the exit and path of travel are not clearly visible, signs must be provided to indicate the direction. A short common path of travel to two otherwise remote exits is permitted, except from an area of high hazard. Exitway access must not pass through areas of high hazard. When evacuation must be delayed because of the need to safely shut down an operation, or for any other reason, special provisions to protect the workers might be required.

Emergency lighting should be required in all facilities except those occupied only during daylight hours in which skylights or windows are arranged to provide, during those hours, the required level of illumination for all portions of the means of egress. You should check the type of lighting used and review records of servicing and testing. If battery packs are used for an emergency power supply, there should be an indicator light to show full-charge condition and a test button to check its operability.

Back to Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Getting Started
Survey Checklists

Reference Guide

Appendix I
Sources of Information & Assistance

Appendix II

Appendix III
Review of Basic Fire Hazards

Appendix IV
Facility Survey

Appendix V
Selected NFPA Reference Codes

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