Editors Note: In an effort to provide the best benefits administration services to our clients, their employees, and their employees’ families in the automotive, roads, and fuels industry, the following is the next installment in our ongoing series of educational bulletins featuring real life events. Visit our most recent installment here: Workplace Safety Tips for Lockout/Tagout Procedures. Each anecdote has been taken from the archives of NARFA’s Automotive Industries Compensation Corporation (AICC) program and is designed to help inform, prepare, and protect businesses and their people from the everyday hazards within their workplace and beyond.

Why Every Company Safety Policy Should Educate Employees on Emergency Exit Routes

When an unexpected emergency occurs, wouldn’t it be nice for you and your employees to know how to safely evacuate the building or facility? Too often, companies ignore the importance of having an accessible escape route in case disaster strikes—which in turn compromises overall company safety. Obstructed emergency exits, blocked exit doors, and failed emergency lighting are all common examples of a company failing to maintain company safety policies designed to protect employees.

The following is a real life example of what can happen when a business fails to maintain emergency exit routes:

On November 28, 1942, the Cocoanut Grove, a premier nightclub in Boston, was the scene of the deadliest nightclub fire in history, killing 492 people and injuring hundreds more. An investigation into the deadly blaze discovered that several exit doors had been bolted shut to prevent any outside public from entering without authorization. In addition, exit doors swung inside, backing up patrons and causing people to trip and fall over each other. This tragedy resulted in the Life Safety Codes that are in existence today.

As noted from the Cocoanut Grove fire described above, failure to maintain accessible emergency exit routes can lead to serious injuries and even fatalities. In order to prevent tragedies like this from happening to your business, consider the following components of an exit system and the requirements that must be met to meet present Life Safety Codes: Exit Route

   Exit route consists of three parts:

  1. Exit Access, or portion of the exit route that leads to an exit
  2. Exit, or the protected area leading to the exit discharge
  3. Exit Discharge, or that part of the exit system that leads directly to a safe open area outside the structure

Life Safety Codes require a workplace to have at least two exit routes. Depending on local building codes, size of the workplace, and arrangement of the workplace, additional exits are often required. Design and Construction Requirements for Exit Routes 

  • Exit routes must be permanent parts of the workplace.
  • Exit discharges must lead directly outside or to a street, walkway, refuge area, public way, or open space with access to the outside. These exit discharge areas must be large enough to accommodate the building occupants likely to use the exit route.
  • Exit stairs that continue beyond the level on which the exit discharge is located must be interrupted at that level by doors, partitions, or other effective means that clearly indicate the direction of travel leading to the exit discharge.
  • Exit route doors must be unlocked from the inside. They must be free of devices or alarms that could restrict use of the exit route if the device or alarm fails.
  • Side-hinged exit doors must be used to connect rooms to exit routes. These doors must swing out in the direction of exit travel if the room is to be occupied by more than 50 people or if the room is a high-hazard area.
  • Exit routes must support the maximum permitted occupant load for each floor served, and the capacity of an exit route may not decrease in the direction of exit route travel to the exit discharge.
  • Ceilings of exit routes must be at least 7 feet, 6 inches high.
  • An exit access must be at least 28 inches wide at all points. Where there is only one exit access leading to an exit or exit discharge, the width of the exit and exit discharge must be at least equal to the width of the exit access. Objects that project into the exit must not reduce its width.
  • Outdoor exit routes are permitted but must meet the minimum height and width requirements for indoor exit routes and must have guardrails to protect unenclosed sides if a fall hazard exists; be covered if snow or ice is likely to accumulate, unless the employer can demonstrate accumulations will be removed before a slipping hazard exists; be reasonably straight and have smooth, solid, substantially level walkways; and not have a dead-end longer than 20 feet.

What are the maintenance, safeguarding, and operational features for exit routes?

  • Keep exit routes free of explosive or highly flammable furnishings and other decorations.
  • Arrange exit routes so employees will not have to travel toward a high-hazard area unless the path of travel is effectively shielded from the high-hazard area.
  • Ensure that exit routes are unobstructed such as by materials, equipment, locked doors, or dead-end corridors.
  • Ensure that safeguards designed to protect employees during an emergency remain in good working order.
  • Provide lighting for exit routes adequate for employees with normal vision.
  • Keep exit route doors free of decorations or signs that obscure the visibility of exit route doors.
  • Post signs along the exit access indicating the direction of travel to the nearest exit and exit discharge if that direction is not immediately apparent. Also, the line-of-sight to an exit sign must be clearly visible at all times.
  • Mark doors or passages along an exit access that could be mistaken for an exit “Not an Exit” or with a sign identifying its use (such as “Closet”).
  • Install “EXIT” signs in plainly legible letters.

At NARFA, we strongly believe that putting the proper procedures in place is key to preventing workplace injuries and fatalities—thereby avoiding OSHA violations and workers compensation claims.

Contact us to learn more about what other benefits administration services we offer, or to hear more about the culture of company safety that we cultivate as part of our AICC worker’s compensation coverage program. And don’t forget to stay connected with our Health & Wellness Safety Tips—we’re always adding more tips to help you and your employees create workplace safety.

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