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Exit routes in the workplace

26th June 2023

Image depicts an emergency exit sign illuminated, maintaining safe exit routes at all times is a challenge many businesses work hard to overcome, Hazard Detect offers continuous monitoring for continuous OSHA/HSE Compliance

The importance of clear exit routes in the workplace

OSHA exit routes requirements, standard 1910.36, directs that workplaces must provide a continuous, unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety (OSHA Emergency Routes FactSheet). The importance of this could be overlooked in the day-to-day activities of running a store – a few boxes left in a hallway, a trolley left in front of a door. In an evacuation situation, these can obscure visual clues and cost valuable time and lives.

In an emergency human ability to remain calm and act rationally is diminished, our innate instincts drive us and not always in the ways that make sense or take us to safety. Visual clues can be overlooked, or may conflict with other cues, or simply may not be visible. Safety compliant exit routes are the result of businesses planning for such emergencies with these limitations in mind.

What are the 3 points of an exit route

Clear escape routes are designed to enable employees and anyone on the premises to escape the building with ease. They are defined by OSHA to have three parts:

  • The exit access – the part of an exit route leading to an exit
  • The exit – the part of the exit route which provides a protected way to travel to the exit discharge.
  • The exit discharge – the part of the exit route which leads outside the building to a street, walkway, or other open space with access to the outside.

How are fire escape routes identified by OSHA?

The exit route should be a permanent part of the workplace. Some examples of requirements OSHA places on employers to ensure exit routes are identifiable and safe include:

  • Ensuring exit routes are unobstructed from materials, locked doors, and dead-end corridors.
  • Keep escape routes free from explosive, or highly flammable materials including furnishings and decorations.
  • Ensure that doors, passages and anything that could be mistaken for an exit is clearly marked “Not an Exit”, or signs stating it’s use clearly, such as “store cupboard”.
  • Install legible “EXIT” signs.
  • Maintain the exit route during any construction, repairs or alterations to the building.

How can you identify exit routes in a building?

Exit routes should be equipped with lighting visible in low light conditions. Additionally, escape route signs should be visible during power outages – the green signs indicate a safe escape route in emergency conditions.

Keeping the green signs unobstructed, free from decorations and maintained to the standard required is critical for ensuring everyone can safely escape in an emergency.

How many escape routes must a workplace have?

Most workplaces are required to have at least two exit routes. These must be located as far away from each other as possible in the event that one is blocked by fire or smoke.

More exit routes may be required if the building layout, number of employees or the size of the building prevents employees from evacuating safely.

There are some exceptions to the number of exit routes needed. This should be advised by a health and safety professional when drawing up emergency evacuation documents.

The value of computer vision in compliance recognition

As businesses face the challenges of recruiting or retaining their employees, ensuring that every new and existing employee acts appropriately can be difficult to measure.

Whilst employees may receive training on manual handling and may be pointed towards the Emergency Action Plan (EAP), clarity on whether employees have read, understood and take seriously the requirements of the EAP can be an altogether different challenge.

The Hazard Detect Computer Vision solution aids businesses in this with ease. Once exit routes are identified they are marked as protected zones – along with exit doors, extinguishers, signage etc. Once a protected zone is identified, Hazard Detect then monitors for obstructions, alerting in real-time when any protected zone is infringed and communicating via existing communication channels to ensure employees are aware and respond to fire safety non-compliance.

For businesses, this demonstrates to OSHA that they have implemented a health and safety management system, designed to react in real-time to actions employees have taken. Additionally, it allows businesses to understand high risk locations, where additional training may be required and other valuable insights to keeping their premises safe.

Why is it important to always maintain clear exit routes?

The challenge, in an emergency, is to evacuate everyone from the building safely and as quickly as possible. A clear fire escape route is fundamental to the safe egress from a building. If the escape route is filled with boxes of merchandise (which could be made from flammable materials), not only might this obscure exit route signs and other evacuation signposts, but they can turn a ‘safe’ exit route into a hazard.

Keeping exit routes clear, quite simply, saves lives and should be a strong clear message every business instils in their employees – their safety depends on it.


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