Emergency Egress

It’s well known that after John Wilkes Booth shot President Lincoln, he leaped from the President’s box to the stage where he tripped and fell, breaking his leg. What’s not well known is what he tripped over. According to some first-hand accounts, as John Wilkes Booth was trying to make his exit, he tripped over the American flag.

Egress is the way out of a room or building. In the event of an emergency, egress sounds like a simple thing. Leave the building! However, from the viewpoint of OSHA, egress involves a number of very critical requirements. Imagine needing to get out of a strange building in a hurry and having doors blocked, not well-lit or not marked as an exit.

In order to comply with some of the requirements of Subpart E of the OSHA standards, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are all exits marked with an “EXIT” sign and illuminated by a reliable light source?
  • Are exit signs provided with the word “EXIT” in lettering at least 6-inches high and the stroke of the lettering at least ¾-inch wide?
  • Are exit doors side-hinged?
  • Are all exits kept free of obstructions and unlocked on the inside?
  • Are doors, passageways, or stairways that are not exits or access to exits–and which could be mistaken for exits–appropriately marked “NOT AN EXIT” or some other words indicating actual use?
  • Are the directions to exits, when not immediately apparent, marked with visible signs and well-lit?
  • Are at least two means of egress provided from elevated platforms, pits, or rooms where the absence of a second exit would increase the risk of injury from hot, poisonous, corrosive, suffocating, flammable, or explosive substances?
  • Are there sufficient exits to permit prompt escape in case of emergency?
  • Are special precautions taken to protect employees during construction and repair operations?
  • Are all exit routes arranged to avoid high-hazard areas?
  • Is the number of exits from each floor of a building and the number of exits from the building itself appropriate for the building occupancy load?
  • Where ramps are used as part of required exiting from a building, is the ramp slope limited to 1 vertical inch per horizontal foot?
  • Where exiting will be through frameless glass doors, glass exit doors, storm doors, etc., are the doors fully tempered and meet the safety requirements for human impact?

Do not rely solely on this list. Always refer to the OSHA standard and applicable NFPA and other local fire and building code requirements when determining compliance for your facility.

This article was originally published in the August 2006 issue of the Journal of Environmental Management-Arizona. Ideas for stories come from a variety of sources, including online news and Richard Hawk of Making Safety Fun.

Fall Prevention Tip

Are your employees “catapedamanics”? They are if they are obsessed with jumping from high places. If their thing is falling from high places, like ladders or scaffolds, the correct term is either “unsafe employees” or “unsafe employer”!

Falls are one of the most frequent causes of employee injuries and are also related to several of OSHA’s top ten list of violations, especially in the construction trades. Your responsibility as an employer is to provide the training and tools to prevent employee falls, whether this includes fall protection devices–such as harness and lanyards–properly erected scaffolding, safe ladder use, or simply good housekeeping. If you don’t provide these things, you may end up “taking the fall” for your employees.

Compliance Tip

Two trucks loaded with thousands of copies of Roget’s Thesaurus collided as they left a New York publishing house. According to a newspaper report, witnesses were astonished, stunned, startled, flabbergasted, taken aback, stupefied…

It takes a lot more than a thesaurus to understand the meaning of complex OSHA and EPA regulations. The OSHA requirements for General Industry alone fill almost 1000 pages! These extensive federal, state and local regulations can be difficult to follow, but the agencies sometimes provide guidance which may make the task a bit easier. Remember that not knowing what’s needed is not a defense; what you don’t know can hurt you! If you need help figuring out what applies to your operation, contact CPSE. We’ve got what you need; expertise, proficiency, know-how, competence…

Warning Signs Tip

A man enters a little country store and sees a sign reading “Danger! Beware of Dog.” Just inside the door, he sees an old hound dog lying asleep on the floor. “Is that the dog folks are supposed to beware of?” says the man to the clerk. “Yep,” replies the clerk. “Before I posted that sign, everyone kept tripping over him.”

Warning signs can be a very effective way of preventing accidents, and in most cases these are required by regulation. Requirements include signs for emergency egress, signs for machine and electrical safety, signs locating fire extinguishers, signs for safe chemical storage and use, and many more situations. Many of the OSHA regulations have signage requirements. Failure to have the required signs can result in injuries, property loss, and non-compliance.

Are Your Employees Cows or Crows?

You’re driving down a country road, and up ahead you see a crow on one side of the road, and a cow on the other. You honk your horn to let them know you’re coming and what happens? The cow just stands there processing the grass–in one end out the other, like it does every day, blissfully unaware of the danger. It doesn’t even look up. On the other side, the crow is paying attention and probably took off even before you honked your horn.

How aware are your employees? Are they able to do the same task each day and still be aware enough to “fly away” when they are at risk? A good safety program keeps your employees aware of the risks from their everyday jobs, through supervisor responsibility, rules and training, employment involvement, and attention to “near misses.”


Your supervisors are the front line in the battle against injuries. They know their employees and the processes. They are out there every day in control of the operations. Make sure your supervisors are aware the risks that their employees face and what’s required to reduce those risks. When it comes to maintaining compliance, OSHA often looks at both management and supervisors when deciding who is liable for a fatality or serious injury.

Here are a number of things that you can do to help your supervisors protect employees and the company:

  • Provide supervisor awareness training to make sure they know their responsibilities.
  • Make supervisors accountable for safety; build safety into their annual performance reviews.
  • Have supervisors do regular documented safety inspections.
  • Use supervisors to provide some of the safety training, e.g., “tailgate” or “benchtop” meetings.
  • Make supervisors responsible for doing detailed accident investigations that include causes and corrective actions, with follow-up.
  • Ensure that supervisors send the message that there’s always time to “do it safely.”

Rules and Training

Your employee manual probably includes a list of results meant to protect the company from liabilities of sexual harassment, theft, improper Internet usage, etc. You probably also have methods of enforcing these rules, such as “third strike” policies. You should do the same with safety rules. There can be general safety rules outlined in the employee manual and job-specific safety rules defined in your safety manual, policies, and standard operating procedures.

Regular, repeated training will help keep employees aware of the rules. Enforcement of the rules will help bring the message home. Many construction companies rely on weekly tailgate meetings at the job sites to keep employees aware. You can have quick meetings in your workplace that focus on specific topics of concern [a good opportunity for supervisors]. Use occurrence of injuries and near misses to help drive your training topics. Repeated training can help keep safety “up front” in employees’ minds.


There are lots of ways to communicate safety to employees. Think about these methods:

  • Publish safety newsletter and handouts
  • Insert paycheck safety reminders or tips
  • Post safety posters
  • Circulate safety incentives
  • Count “no lost workdays”
  • Include safety issues in plant meetings to keep awareness up
  • Post Safety Committee minutes

Employee Involvement

Workers will be more responsive to safety requirements if they are involved in the process. Some ideas for instilling a sense of “ownership” include:

  • When doing Job Safety Analysis, make sure you talk with the employees involved in the operations. After all, they are the ones who are doing the work and will have an “insiders” viewpoint.
  • Provide a safety suggestion box, and make sure to follow up with the employees making the suggestion. Even if you don’t act on the suggestions, let them know why. That way, they know that they’re not being ignored.
  • Have a Safety Committee that includes workers from various departments. Don’t just rely on supervisors and managers to make up the Committee.
  • Make sure that employees know they they won’t get into trouble if they communicate safety issues. You would be amazed at the number of employees, especially from certain cultures, who think they they’ll be fired for “complaining” about safety.

Near Misses

Near misses are accidents just waiting to happen. Near misses are those accidents that almost happen. Near misses are what make injuries predictable. If you ignore them, you’re increasing the likelihood that someone will be hurt. OSHA statistics indicate that for every fatality or serious injury that occurs, there are 29 moderate injuries and 300 near misses! Think of the amount of pain, damage, and expense that could be saved if you recognized and responded to the first near miss–before it became an injury or fatality.

Most accidents result from one of two things:

  • Unsafe conditions. These are things that can usually be fixed or controlled.
  • Unsafe acts. These are behavioral, such as when employees put themselves and others at risk by not following the rules.

Ensuring that all the employees are looking out for unsafe conditions, unsafe acts and near misses and are empowered to dosomething them will go a long way towards reducing injuries and improving employee awareness.

They say that when a person is wide awake, alert, and mentally active, they are still only aware of 25% of what their body is doing. When your employees are working with machinery or chemicals, they need to be operating at 100%, including at 75% that their brains aren’t paying attention to.

Safety awareness is critical to avoiding injuries. So what’s it going to be for your employees? Cows or Crows?

The article was originally published in the October/November 2009 issue of the Journal of Environmental Management-Arizona. Ideas for the stories come from a variety of sources, including online news and Richard Hawk of Make Safety Fun.