How many exits does a work area need?

Date Posted: 05/03/2021

The number of exits required from a room or work area depends on the occupancy (or capacity), but also on the “common path of travel.” OSHA does not use that phrase, but it appears in the National Fire Protection Association NFPA 101: Life Safety Code, which OSHA has incorporated by reference.

Despite a misconception, a room or area within a building might not need two exits, even if it holds 50 or more people. However, NFPA 101 says that the common path of travel may be only 20 feet for such rooms. This is the distance occupants must travel before they have a choice of paths to continue toward an exit.

For example, a conference room designed for 80 people is probably more than 20 feet across, so it will need at least two doors. A second door allows a second path of travel while occupants are still inside the room. Note also that when occupancy is 50 or more, doors must swing in the direction of travel.

Common path for smaller rooms

If the occupancy is under 50, the common path of travel may be up to 75 feet. To illustrate, a conference room that holds only 15 people is probably less than 75 feet across, so only one door is required. In addition, since the occupancy is under 50, the door may open inward.

The same concepts apply to other areas. If a work area (like a machine shop) is intended for fewer than 50 people and the common path of travel is 75 feet or less, that area would not require two exits. However, if the shop is so large that the common path of travel is more than 75 feet, the machine shop would need at least two exits.

Exit door or exit access door?

OSHA distinguishes between an “exit access” and an “exit discharge” (or exit door). As stated in 1910.34, an “exit route” consists of the exit access, the exit, and the exit discharge.

  • The exit access is the portion of the route that leads to an exit (like a corridor).
  • The exit is the portion separated from other areas (like a fire resistance-rated stairway).
  • The exit discharge is usually the door that leads directly outside.

Most doors leading out of rooms are not “exit doors” (discharges) but rather “exit access doors” (part of the exit route). The number of exits required partially depends on the occupancy load, but understanding the common path of travel is also important to determine how many exits are needed. Even an area with a capacity under 50 people may need more than one exit if the common path of travel is more than 75 feet.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

To help ensure that your company is in compliance (or quickly identify problems), simply use the convenient checklists found in the J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE. You’ll find them in the Audits area within the Checklists link. We’ve provided checklists on more than 100 topics ranging from Aerial Lifts to Warehouses, and you’ll find one for Exit Routes also!

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