OSHA: Exit Routes Are Mandatory

By Roy Maurer June 27, 2013

Is there a clear way out of your building in case of an emergency? Do you know where all the exits are in case your first choice is blocked or too crowded?

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued a national memorandum on exit routes, directing inspectors to carefully examine whether employers have provided and maintained an adequate means of exit from work areas, the agency announced on June 17, 2013.

This comes after the massive fire and explosion at a Chinese poultry-processing plant in early June, in which an estimated 119 employees died. Survivors described workers struggling to reach doors that turned out to be locked or blocked.

The memo directs inspectors to determine whether an adequate number of exit routes are provided and whether those routes are unobstructed, as well as to ensure that exit doors are not locked.

OSHA described an exit route as a “continuous and unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety.”

The key elements that an employer must have in place to provide safe exit routes can be found here.

Know the Number of Exits Needed

Usually, a workplace must have at least two exit routes to permit employees and visitors to promptly evacuate the building during an emergency, according to OSHA. More than two may be required, depending on the number of employees, the size of the building and the arrangement of the site. In some cases, if all employees and other occupants can exit safely during an emergency, one exit route is acceptable. Exit routes must be located as far from each other as possible, in case one is blocked by fire or smoke.

Free and Unobstructed

Ensure that exit routes are not obstructed by:

  • Materials, equipment, locked doors or dead-end corridors.
  • Decorations or signs that obscure the visibility of exit-route doors.
  • Objects that could impede access to the exit route during construction, repair or alterations to a workplace.
  • Explosive or highly flammable furnishings.

It cannot be stressed enough that exit doors must be unlocked from the inside. They must also be free of devices or alarms that could restrict their use if the device or alarm fails.

Properly Labeled and Maintained

Exit routes and doors must be properly labeled and maintained. This includes:

  • Providing adequate lighting.
  • Posting signs along the exit route indicating the direction of travel to the nearest exit and exit discharge if that direction is not immediately apparent.
  • Marking doors or passages along an exit route with signs, such as “Not an exit” or “Break Room,” to prevent confusion as to their purpose.
  • Using “Exit” signs that have large legible letters.

Additionally, OSHA strongly recommends that all employers keep a written emergency action plan in the workplace and make it available for employees to review.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him on Twitter @SHRMRoy.

Quick Links:

SHRM OnlineSafety & Security page

Keep up with the latest Safety & Security HR news

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Search Jobs

Member Benefit: Ask-An-Advisor Service

SHRM's HR Knowledge Advisors offer guidance and resources to assist members with their HR inquiries.

SHRM's HR Knowledge Advisors offer guidance and resources to assist members with their HR inquiries.



HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.