Safety Signs Blog

When should a fire exit be signed as an Exit?

29th November 2010 | Fire Exit Signs

As a general warning to readers of the following, I am afraid to report this article does not reveal a satisfactory or indeed satisfying answer to the question posed above. In many ways it raises more questions than it answers by highlighting the contrast between how the British Standards require Exit doors to be signed against how many fire officers, risk assessors or building owners actually sign up escape routes.

Firstly, lets look at what the Standard says. BS 5499 part 4 says that a fire exit is a door that is only ever used in the event of an emergency. Often this door will open outwards, opened by a push pad or push bar. The safety sign that should appear above this fire exit door should show a running man, an upward arrow (as amended in 2000) and the text “Fire Exit”.

fire exit / emergency exit sign with running man facing right & arrow up

Equally, the signs that guide evacuees through the building towards this door that is only be used in the event of an emergency should also say “Fire Exit”.

exit / emergency exit sign with running man facing right & arrow up

However, the door that is used regularly in normal day-to-day work is an entrance and ultimately an “Exit” (shown above). So, for example, the door that is walked through on the way into reception is an exit and should be signed as such according to the British Standards. The signs within the building leading to this door should also say “Exit”.

In view of the simple fact that every workplace and place of leisure must have an entrance and therefore an “exit”, but not all have a fire exit (only opened in the event of an emergency), the safety signs industry should surely sell at least as many ‘Exit’ signs as ‘Fire exit’ signs. However, this is nowhere near the case…….and arguably for good reason.

The fire brigade, fire risk assessors, fire protection companies and any one else charged with installing fire exit signs generally take the view that if the door is to be used in the event of an emergency, then it should be signed “Fire Exit”, whether it is the front door, side door or true push bar, fire exit door.

A good example of why they do this can be seen by considering the person stood in reception. Metres away there will be an exit that can certainly be used in the event of an emergency. The last thing a sign specifier/installer wants is for the panicked individual to ignore this door and start following the fire exit signs back into a potentially burning building instead.

As an example of this practice of signing all exit doors Fire Exit, the author of this article was involved in a £35million new build in the Autumn of 2010. As suggested above, all the fire drawings were clearly marked showing fire exit signs being used throughout, even at the front door.

At the time of writing the British Standards BS5499 part 4 has not changed, meaning buildings like the £35million new build mentioned above are wrong by the letter of the Standard but entirely right in the perception of this author and many more qualified industry professionals. When the alarm sounds, evacuees should make their way to the shortest route to safety, no matter how it is signed. Allowing them to choose between Exit and Fire exit routes can lead to confusion with possibly fatal consequences.


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