Workplaces have not always had easily accessible exit routes. One hundred years ago, sweatshop workers caught in a burning building might race each other frantically to the nearest fire escape, if there was one, and climb down step by step. Today, OSHA has adopted detailed regulations about how exit routes must be constructed and marked. This article focuses on exit route markings.

What Exit Signs does OSHA require?

OSHA tackles exit route markings in section 1910.37 of its regulations. Here are the key requirements:

  • Each exit must be clearly visible and marked by a sign reading “Exit.” The word “Exit” must be written in plainly legible letters not less than six inches high, with the principal strokes of the letters not less than three-fourths of an inch wide.[1]
  • Each exit sign must be illuminated by a reliable light source to a surface value of at least five foot-candles and be distinctive in color. Self-luminous or electroluminescent signs that have a certain minimum luminance surface value (at least .06 footlamberts) are permitted.[2]
  • Exit route doors must be free of decorations or signs that obscure their visibility.[3]
  • If the direction of travel to the exit is not immediately apparent, signs must be posted along the exit access indicating the direction to the exit.[4]
  • The line-of-sight to an exit sign must clearly be visible at all times.[5]
  • Each exit route must be adequately lighted so that an employee with normal vision can see along the exit route.[6]
  • Each doorway or passage along an exit access that could be mistaken for an exit must be marked “Not an Exit” or a similar designation, or else be identified by a sign indicating its actual use (e.g., closet).[7]
Exit Route Floor Signs

Floor Signs As Follows:
Exit Sign | Stop – Not An Exit Sign | Exit Sign With Arrow

What about the states themselves? Do they have rules?

In some states (less than half), the OSHA program is administered by state officials rather than the feds. Some of these states tack additional requirements onto their standards. To find out whether your state manages its OSHA program on its own, use the Directory of States with OSHA-Approved Occupational Safety and Health Plans.

Is there anything else I should know?

Other organizations have issued standards for marking exit routes, in particular, National Fire Protection Association 101 and the International Fire Code. Compliance with either one is deemed to satisfy OSHA’s exit-marking requirements (see Section 1910.35). Local building codes often follow NFPA 101.

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[1] OSHA regulation 1910.37(b)(2), (b)(7).
[2] OSHA regulation 1910.37(b)(6).
[3] OSHA regulation 1910.37(b)(3).
[4] OSHA regulation 1910.37(b)(4).
[5] OSHA regulation 1910.37(b)(4).
[6] OSHA regulation 1910.37(b)(1).
[7] OSHA regulation 1910.37(b)(5).

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