Where Should Emergency Exit Signs and Lighting be Placed?

We typically take emergency exit signs and emergency lighting for granted. However, that doesn't take away from how important they are in a commercial building.

As with other emergency devices and equipment, we hope we never have to use them. Still, it's vital to have them and to know that they are there when we need to.

The sole purpose of emergency exit signs and emergency lighting is to illuminate the part within a building that leads occupants to the exit. This feature ensures that people can safely tell which ways and doors to choose to go through when they’re trying to evacuate their individual spaces and the entire building.

Building owners and property managers know the massive importance of emergency exit signs and emergency lighting. However, not very many are familiar with where these fire safety devices should be placed.

If you’re in the middle of a new construction project or you’re making significant updates to the inside of your commercial building, it’s essential to follow the guidelines regarding emergency exit signs and emergency lighting placement and installation.

Emergency Exit Signs and Emergency Lighting Codes

The following are the regulatory bodies that have established the codes and guidelines regarding exit signs and emergency lighting.

The codes from these organizations oversee the installation, testing, inspection, and maintenance of emergency lighting and exit signs.

  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO)
  • International Building Code
  • International Fire Code

In addition to these national regulations, there are also statewide and local requirements that govern individual jurisdictions. New York City, for instance, has its own emergency signs and emergency lighting regulations.

If you’re not familiar with the state and local requirements within your jurisdiction, it’s best to reach out to a fire safety inspector or your local fire marshal.

Requirements for Emergency Exit Signs and Emergency Lighting

The NFPA 101 Life Safety Code and OSHA 1910.37(b) outline the requirements for emergency signs and lighting.

Where to Install Emergency Lighting

When determining the installation of these fire safety devices, keep the following in mind:

  • Commercial, educational, industrial, religious, medical, institutional, and many other types of establishments are required to have emergency lighting and signs throughout their premises.
  • Stairways, corridors, hallways, and all other exit routes must be sufficiently illuminated with backup lighting. This ensures that everyone with a healthy vision can adequately see the exit path.
  • Bathrooms, storage closets, and other internal rooms that don’t have any windows must have emergency lighting.
  • Emergency lighting fixtures must have enough space to prevent excessive dark or bright spots that may impede the vision of the building occupants.
  • There are instances that allowances are allowed for areas within the building with large windows – allowing natural light to come in.
People following an emergency exit sign.

Emergency lights must installed appropriately to light the walkway. Proper aiming must be considered.

Light bulbs that are not rightly aimed fail to meet the codes – even when they are installed in the correct areas.

Where to Install Emergency Exit Signs

When placing exit signs within your building, remember the following important guidelines:

  • All doors leading to a hallway that leads to the main building exit must have adequately marked and easily visible signs that say “Exit.”
  • All exit signs must be lit up at all times. A backup battery for continued lighting must be available in case of a power outage. The typeface of the sign must be plain, clearly legible letters. The color of the text must be distinct and not blend into the background.
  • All exit doors must not have any decorations, furnishings, or other equipment that obscure them or distract building occupants from seeing them.
  • The line-of-sight from all angles of emergency exit signs must always be free from any obstructions. If hallways turn, an additional exit sign must be installed with other directional signs to show where the nearest exit is located.
  • If there are doors along the exit path that may be mistaken for an exit (such as storage, closet, etc.), mark them with either “No Exit” or “Not an Exit” sign to avoid confusion.
Emergency exit signs must be clearly illuminated

Annual Inspections

Aside from knowing the proper locations of emergency signs and lighting, building owners and property managers must also schedule a yearly lighting inspection.

This ensures that all the lights within the facilities are up to code. If there are any repairs needed, a regular inspection will reveal them.