It is not enough to ensure the safety of your employees during normal work activities. When an evacuation is necessary, you will need responsible, trained individuals who can supervise and coordinate activities to ensure a safe and successful evacuation. This is Part 1 of a multi-part post regarding emergency evacuations and how employers can prepare for the worst. Check out OSHA’s Emergency Action Plan E-Tool for additional resources regarding this subject.
Part 1 – How large are your Exit Doors?
The exit route refers to how employees will travel from their workstation to the exit door. Workers may need to go down hallways, passageways, corridors, open aisle ways, stairwells, through doorways, lobbies, etc., until the exit door is reached. The Exit door may lead out to a parking lot, sidewalk, busy alley, or outdoor courtyard.
Building and Fire Codes require a certain number of exit routes and exit routes, depending on several factors:
- Low-density workplaces do not require as many exits. High-rise office buildings must have multiple exits designed to handle many people.
- The size of the building also impacts the number of exits.
- The arrangement of the building also affects the number of exits. A square building with open floor spaces probably does not need as many exits as an odd-shaped building.
- The type of occupancy also impacts the number of exits. A building in which flammable chemicals are stored or used will require more exits because a fire could be started more easily and also spread more quickly.
Keep in mind that from any point in a building, there must be at least two exit routes to provide different ways for employees to leave the workplace safely during an emergency.
- A single exit route is allowed in some rare cases. The number of employees, the size of the building, and the arrangement of the workplace is such that a single exit will allow all employees to exit safely during an emergency. Other means of escape, such as an accessible window, are required to be provided in case the one exit becomes blocked.
- The exit route must be large enough to accommodate the maximum permitted occupant load for each floor served by the evacuation route. If a stairwell is designed to serve as an evacuation route for many floors, it must be able to handle the maximum occupant load of each of those floors.
- The capacity of an exit route cannot decrease at any point. This may create a bottleneck in the exit route and block the route. It might cause panic as people are wondering why everyone has stopped. Injuries might occur as people try to push forward into the bottleneck. Do not use exit routes as storage areas, because this results in decreased capacity of the exit route.
- Exit routes must always be a minimum of 7 feet 6 inches high. Objects such as ceiling fans or sprinkler heads cannot hang down below 6 feet 8 inches.
- Exit routes must always be a minimum of 28 inches wide at all points. This includes the distance between handrails.
Look for Part 2 on this subject soon. In the meantime, here is an additional resource on Fire Doors.