Safety Signs Blog

Fire Exit Signs Aesthetics vs Practicality

6th January 2011 | Fire Exit Signs

Posted by David Arnold.

Having recently carried out a safety sign installation for a new wing of a large hospital, I found myself embroiled in a large debate about why the signs recommended had been installed directly over the larger of the two double doors, rather than in the centre of the door frame. This article will examine why the debate started and how it was resolved.

Within the new hospital wing, up to thirty double doors had fire exit signs shown above them. The doors themselves were made up of a full leaf door and a two-third leaf door. In other words the secondary door was far smaller than the main door.

The issue here was one of practicality over aesthetics. On the one hand the building’s owners wanted their impressive new build to look as good as it possibly could do come the big opening. On the other hand, there was myself, the installer, whose only concern was the long-term speed of egress in an emergency.

I felt the crux of the debate centred around the BSi’s statement that says fire exit signs are not installed into buildings for their aesthetics. As BS5499 part 4 says, when it comes to installing fire exits, “fitting in with the decor should not be a consideration in overall sign system design”. Fire exit signs are there for one reason only – to ensure evacuees can make their way the shortest route to safety, without confusion or unnecessary delay (“defining the shortest travel distance”).

The argument that I strongly put forward was which door did the building owner’s actually want would-be evacuees to use in the event of an emergency? Whilst the secondary door could be used without restriction in the event of an emergency, it is clearly not the door that the Building Regulations intends for evacuees to escape through.

I took the view that positioning these signs centrally - rather than over the largest door - could easily cause the unnecessary delay of evacuees pulling/pushing the door that is not designed for them to escape through. Although this is only a small delay, delays like this at every door along the escape route could well lead to more significant delays in the building’s complete evacuation.

In this scenario, a parallel can be drawn with the “rubber necking” driver on the opposite side of a motorway. Although there may be no accident on his or her side of the carriageway, the slowing effect of every driver can often lead to congestion and delays behind them. The same would have been true with every evacuee using or at least trying the smaller of the two doors first.

It is for this reason that I strongly believe fire exit signs should always be positioned to aid evacuees. If by positioning the sign slightly off centre means that the larger door is always pulled/pushed first then the objective has been achieved, regardless of how it looks at the opening ceremony! Needless to say, in this case ultimately the installer got his way. The safety signs for this new build stayed exactly where they had first been positioned – above the full leaf door to ensure it is the one that all evacuees will try to open first.

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