Why You Must Care that OSHA Now Targets Exit Routes

To be honest, I was a monkee for not thinking there was much to this target. But now, I’m a believer.

A few months ago, OSHA directed its inspectors to scrutinize whether employers provide and maintain adequate means of egress, i.e. unlocked, unobstructed, and clearly marked exit doors and exit routes. Those inspectors have taken this directive seriously, and many unsuspecting companies – my clients included – are being cited for not knowing OSHA’s regulations on exit doors and exit routes.

Here are the basic requirements for complying with OSHA’s rules on exit routes:

  1. Employers must determine how many exit routes are required in its building. As a general rule, workplaces must have a minimum of two exits, and possibly more based on the number of employees, the size of the building, and the arrangement of the workplace. One exit route may be allowed if the size of the building, its occupancy, or arrangement allows all employees to evacuate safely.
  2. Exit routes must be maintained unobstructed and the exit doors must remain unlocked from the inside. Specifically, exit routes must be free of stored materials, equipment, and especially explosive or highly flammable furnishings. Exit doors must be conspicuous, visible, free of decoration, and unlocked from the inside.
  3. Exit routes and doors must be properly labeled and maintained. Proper labels include signs that read “EXIT” or “TO EXIT” in plain legible letters, and maintained with adequate lighting. Doors or passages along the exit route that are not exits and do not lead to exits must be marked as “NOT AN EXIT” or labeled such that their non-exit purpose is obvious, i.e. store room, office, etc.

Retailers like grocery stores and convenience stores and hospitality companies like restaurants, hotels, and hospitals should pay particular attention to these rules. Emergency exits in those industries are for both employees and patrons. And even without OSHA’s recent directive, egress issues are one of the most frequently cited OSHA standard every year.

Although egress-related violations are typically only a few thousand dollars or less, OSHA now treats related workplaces within a corporate family as a single workplace for purposes of issuing Repeat violations. Repeat violations carry penalties of up to $70,000 per violation. If you have heard me speak on OSHA over the past year you know that OSHA has issued over 200% more Repeat and Willful citations costing employers millions more dollars in penalties and fines. Finding Repeat violations appears to be a goal of OSHA, and it appears OSHA is meeting its goal.

Matt Austin is a Columbus, Ohio lawyer who owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm with offices in central and northeast Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. Austin Legal’s Concierge Legal Services program is relied upon by companies to remain compliant and competitive. If you have employees, you need Concierge Legal Services. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Austin@LaborEmploymentOSHA.com.

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