Are No Exit Signs just as important as Fire exit signs
Posted by David Arnold
In recent months, this website has sold more No exit signs than it perhaps expected. Whilst Fire exit signs are the mainstay of any safety sign manufacturer’s offering, the sign that says No exit does not feature in either The Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals Regulations) or even British Standard 5499 Part 4. What today’s article considers is why?
To properly answer this question, the reader should understand what the above two documents say about fire exits. In essence they state that in terms of positioning of signs, fire exits should lead evacuees the shortest route to a place of safety. In simple terms if an evacuee is stood in a corridor and he or she looks left and right they see should see just one sign saying fire exit - a sign at one end of the corridor that takes them the shortest route to a place of safety.
Having seen the first sign, a fire exit sign should be visible at every point along the escape route, so at no point evacuees become lost, confused or disorientated.
Installing fire exit signs in the above way is absolutely right. However there is, of course, one major problem with this approach: What happens if there is a fire blocking the designated route that is taking evacuees to a place of safety? It is at that point that the evacuees could become lost, confused and disorientated – the three things the planner was trying to avoid.
At the planning stage installers of fire exit signs try to account for this drawback with BS5499 part 4 in one of three ways:
Consistent with BS5499, some planners have a second set of signs marked Exit. Rather than leading to a door that is only used in an emergency, these “Exit” signs go towards the front door or some other door that can be used in normal to day-to-day working practice. This approach then could well give the evacuee a second option.
Other planners go with the ‘what if a fire started here?’ approach. An example of this is to take us back to the imaginary corridor we considered earlier. Rather than seeing one sign at one end of the corridor, there are two visible Fire exit signs, one at either end of the corridor. In doing this the planner is sacrificing “The shortest distance to a place of safety” in favour of ensuring all evacuees have an alternative option when escaping.
The major draw-back with this second approach is the more signs you have the more chance there is of sending people one way and then back the other – keeping them in the burning building for far too long.
The third option is to employ the No Escape sign.
Planners and/or installers in favour of this approach usually feel that signs taking people the shortest route of safety is the right way to go. Then, if for whatever reason that escape route is blocked, they hope people will look for an alternative route around the blockage. From this viewpoint, the planner feels the only thing they then should do is ensure the evacuee does not take a turn that ultimately leads to a dead end, with no chance of escape.
The no exit sign can and does do this. Using this sign undoubtedly improves swift egress from a building, ultimately saving time and lives in the process.
As a footnote to this article, it is important to remember that whilst BS5499 part 4 gives guidance on fire exit signs it can never account for every eventuality. It can also be interrupted differently by different people. What this article is attempting to do in limited space is give planners and installers food for thought before installing their own signs.
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