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Means of Egress - Getting out of trouble...

Our prior review of the Life Safety Code and Emergency Lighting highlighted the structure of the code and the provisions in place to assure that you have adequate lighting to exit the building. Effective evacuation depends on the means of egress being professionally designed and maintained. Some of the basic principles are:

  • Two separate ways out – This is a basic principle for the Life Safety Code. Having two ways to exit the space and those exits must be remote from each other to prevent a single event from compromising both exits. Exits in commercial spaces are designed for the purpose and are suitable width, equipped with handrails and doors that swing in the direction of egress.

  • Enough ways out – As the number of people in the space increases, the number of exits also increases. This is intended to reduce the possibility of a bottleneck at any given exit and delaying the movement of the crowd. The right number of exits properly distributed is a key consideration for life safety design.

  • Exits are close – Travel distance to an exit is a consideration in locating exits and can mean additional exits to allow immediate access. Travel distances vary with the occupancy and can be increased for buildings with sprinkler systems. Getting the people into a protected environment such as a protected stairwell keeps the occupants safe. Travel distance is important to control to make sure the protection is readily accessible and evacuation times are short.

  • Doors swing in the direction of egress – This is a fundamental way to keep the flow moving. Doors that swing against the egress flow tend to create delays . The best practice is having doors in the path of the designated exit paths swing in the direction of egress. There are provisions to allow small areas or areas with limited occupancy to have in-swinging doors. These limits are set to address the inherent impediment and delay potential for an in-swinging door.

  • Exit availability is more important than security – There is a balance between physical security and egress availability. The scales are weighted that egress availability is the higher consideration. There are code provisions for automatically unlocking doors. There can be a slight delay in releasing doors from secured areas and having an audible alarm sound to alter staff of egress attempts. These provisions must be carefully designed, installed, and maintained.

  • Exits must be obvious – The use of lighted exit signs and directional exit signs to move you towards the exit are a primary tool for your safety. Exist signs must be placed properly and be easily seen with contrasting colors to stand out. Exit signs must be maintained and should not be covered or obscured.

  • Exits must be available – Exit paths are not “free” space that can be used for storage of other purposes. Using stairwells for storage or using the exit path as additional space for workstations or equipment defeats the purpose of having a designed means of egress. Adding security dividers within a space may require additional exit points if the egress path is interrupted.

  • Egress assistance in assembly venues is required – In assembly occupancies the code requires that you have crowd managers to assist in egress. If the occupancy load is greater than 250, there must be at least 1 crowd manager for every 250 occupants. Research and experience have shown that audiences and attendees may not respond to the evacuation cues and may not be familiar with the closest means of egress. Trained crowd managers are needed to direct the egress smoothly and efficiently. Existing venue staff can be trained for this purpose.

Getting out of a building quickly and safely is not a random event. It occurs when the building has been designed, maintained and proper training and supervision is present to keep the systems in balance.

Many egress issues become evident when an event identifies the failure. This can create a liability exposure for the owner and operators of the space. Driehaus Insurance Group has the necessary technical expertise to assist our clients in understanding these requirements and recognizing when improvements may be needed. Reach out to contact us at 513-977-6860 or on the web at


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