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December 30, 2015
Get out! A checklist for inspecting your emergency escape routes

In the event of a fire, chemical release, or similar disaster, your workers might need to leave the building quickly. You've probably established emergency evacuation routes, but have you given them a test run?

What looks good on paper may not work in real life. When designating your evacuation routes, actually walk each route, observing how it looks on a day-to-day basis and evaluating what may impede evacuation along the route. Use this checklist of questions to identify common escape-route problems.

Is the route clearly marked? Is the route marked all along its length, or have you marked only the exits? Relatively inexpensive details—reflective paint on stairs, railings, and stairwell doors; bright arrows to guide people along corridors to exits; and battery-operated emergency lighting—can help ensure the way out is easy to find even in the dark or smoke.

Markings and lighting at floor level will help workers find the route if they're crawling to avoid accumulating smoke.

Are dead ends clearly indicated? Workers who run down one too many flights of stairs may find themselves trapped in a basement; workers who mistakenly go through the wrong door may find themselves trapped in a restroom or other dead end. Make sure any route that could be mistaken for an exit is clearly marked "Not an Exit," and use physical barriers when possible to reinforce this information.

Many buildings place their basement stairwells separately from the stairwells leading to upper floors, or place gates and other barriers across basement stairwells, for this reason.

Could the route be blocked? Do you have equipment like forklifts or other mobile equipment that, if stopped in place during an evacuation, could cause evacuation problems? Do workers routinely store materials where they could obstruct exit routes? Could workers find themselves trapped against a locked door--for example, does the exit lead to a roll-up door that might be rolled down and secured at the wrong moment?

Is the route itself safe? Ideally, your emergency exit route should not go through or pass close to areas that could become hazardous in a fire or emergency, like tank farms or chemical storage areas. Of course, workers in these areas will need to have escape routes mapped out, but escape routes should lead away from these areas, not toward, through, or past them.

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