Fall allergy  air filter

Emergency Exits: OSHA Requirements, Regulations and Guidance for Emergency Exits

If there is one set of OSHA rules that your business had better comply with, it is exit requirements.  Not only could failure to comply result in massive fines, in the event of a fire or other emergency, non-compliance could cost the lives of employees, visitors, customers and you!

Below on this page, we walk though all aspects of emergency exit requirements and emergency plans in simple terms, with references to the regulations and source and guidance documents.

Questions to Ask Yourself About Emergency Exit Routes?

What is an exit route?

An exit route is a continuous and unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety. An exit route consists of three parts:

  1. Exit access – portion of an exit route that leads to an exit.
  2. Exit – portion of an exit route that is generally separated from other areas to provide a protected way of travel to the exit discharge.
  3. Exit discharge – part of the exit route that leads directly outside or to a street, walkway, refuge area, public way, or open space with access to the outside.

How many exit routes must a workplace have?

Normally, a workplace must have at least two exit routes to permit prompt evacuation of employees and other building occupants during an emergency. More than two exits are required, however, if the number of employees, size of the building, or arrangement of the workplace will not allow employees to evacuate safely. Exit routes must be located as far away as practical from each other in case one is blocked by fire or smoke.

Exception: If the number of employees, the size of the building, its occupancy, or the arrangement of the workplace allows all employees to evacuate safely during an emergency, one exit route is permitted.

What are some other design and construction requirements for exit routes?

Requirements for Exits

The minimum acceptable width of a hallway, passageway, stairway, or exit is often a point of contentions during safety inspections. OSHA regulations and interpretations describing these requirements are found in several different sections. 1910.36 - Design and construction requirements for exit routes. 1910.24 - Fixed industrial stairs. 1910.37 - Maintenance, safeguards, and operational features for exit routes. The OSHA [exit route] requirements, [§1910.36(g)(2)], state that the minimum width of any way of exit access shall in no case be less than 28 inches. Stairways, which are not used as an exit or emergency, according to §1910.24(d), may have a minimum stair width of 22 inches. However, it must also be noted that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) often overrides OSHA, and commonly mandates at least 44 inches to allow wheelchair access.  

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

OSHA standards require employers to do the following:

Are employers required to have emergency action plans?

If you have 10 or fewer employees, you may communicate your plan orally. If you have more than 10 employees, however, your plan must be written, kept in the workplace, and available for employee review. Although employers are required to have an emergency action plan (EAP) only when the applicable OSHA standard requires it, OSHA strongly recommends that all employers have an EAP. Here are the OSHA standards that require EAP’s:

What are the minimum elements of an emergency action plan?

Must all employers have fire prevention plans?

If you have 10 or fewer employees, you may communicate your plan orally. If you have more than 10 employees, however, your plan must be written, kept in the workplace, and available for employee review. Although employers are only required to have a fire prevention plan (FPP) when the applicable OSHA standard requires it, OSHA strongly recommends that all employers have a fire prevention plan (FPP). The following OSHA standards require FPPs:

Here are the minimum provisions of a fire prevention plan:

In addition, when you assign employees to a job, you must inform them of any fire hazards they may be exposed to. You must also review with each employee those parts of the fire prevention plan necessary for self-protection.

How can I file a complaint or get more information on safety and health?

For more detail on exit routes and related standards see Exit Routes, Emergency Action Plans, and Fire Prevention Plans in Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.33-39; and OSHA Directive CPL 2-1.037, Compliance Policy for Emergency Action Plans and Fire Prevention Plans. In addition, employers who comply with the exit route provisions of the National Fire Protection Association’s 101-2000, Life Safety Code, will be considered in compliance with the OSHA requirements for exit routes.

OSHA has various publications, standards, technical assistance, and compliance tools to help you, and offers extensive assistance through workplace consultation, voluntary protection programs, strategic partnerships, alliances, state plans, grants, training, and education. OSHA’s Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines (54 Federal Register 3904-3916, 1/26/89) detail elements critical to the development of a successful safety and health management system. This and other information are available on OSHA’s website.

This page was updated on 1-May-2009