Environmental, Health and Safety Services

Means of Egress (Exiting)

One of the primary goals of the Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention code is to safeguard life in the event of a fire by assuring a safe path of egress travel for occupants. This is achieved by controlling the number of occupants that are allowed to occupy a room or area; and by assuring the egress route is safe and available for immediate use.

Occupant Load

The design occupant load is the number of occupants that are intended to occupy a building or portion of a building at any one time and the number for which the means of egress is designed. There is a limited to the density of occupants permitted in an area to enable a reasonable amount of freedom of movement. Occupant load set for any space (especially classrooms, laboratories, auditoriums and all of the other places of assemblies) should not be exceeded at any time. If you need further assistance determining the occupant load for a space or a special event, contact EHSS Fire Safety.

Posting of Occupant Load Signs

Any space used for assembly occupancy is required to display, in a visible location, the approved occupant load. In addition, occupant load sign must be posted in any space occupied by 50 or more persons.

Egress Requirements

General The means of egress from each part of the structure, including exits, stairways, egress doors, and any panic hardware must be maintained in a safe condition and available for immediate use. Freestanding furniture, trash, combustible material (e.g. paper products), or any unapproved storage (contact EHSS Fire Safety Engineer for further information on when storage is acceptable in means of egress) should not be allowed in any part of means of egress. Fire protection equipment (e.g. fire alarm panels, fire extinguishers, etc.) should always be readily accessible to maintenance and emergency response personnel at all times. The exit signs should be lit and in working condition at all times. The access to exit doors should always be kept free of any obstruction.
Stairwells and Corridors Stairwells and corridors are intended to provide a safe and adequate means for building occupants to exit the building and for emergency personnel to access the building during an emergency.

Tables, showcases, holiday decorations (Christmas trees), vending machines or other obstructions cannot obstruct aisles, passageways or stairways during hours when the building is open to the public.

Display boards, signs, coat racks and any other movable equipment that obstructs the path of egress are prohibited. Draperies and similar hangings must be fire retardant (with a tag or a certificate for proof) and cannot obscure an exit.

No storage is allowed in stairwells at any time. The State Fire Prevention Code does not permit equipment, such as vending machines, to be placed in any stairwell. This is to ensure safe egress for occupants in the event of an emergency.
Exit Doors Exit doors must be easily opened from the egress side without the use of a key or special knowledge. Exit doors can be locked from the outside so long as the door can still be opened from the inside. Thumb bolts, slide latches and any other type of manual locking devices are prohibited on exit doors.

Stairwell doors cannot be locked at any time. These doors must be self-closing and self-latching. They must also remain closed at all times to inhibit the spread of smoke into the stairwell.
Aisles In each room where chairs and/or tables are utilized, the arrangement needs to provide for ready egress by aisle paths and aisles to each egress door.

The minimum required width is 44 inches where serving an occupant load greater than 50, and 36 inches where serving an occupant load of 50 or less for the entire room.

Chairs, table or other objects cannot obstruct the clear width of aisles.
Egress Awareness Building occupants should take the time to become more familiar with their building. Occupants should think of an emergency scenario that would require them to evacuate, and then determine a primary and an alternative means of egress for themselves. They should also become more familiar with what is going on above and below the level where they normally work. Employees should walk the halls and notice the placement of portable fire extinguishers. If the building is so equipped, notice the location of other fire protection systems, such as fire alarm system pull stations and sprinkler heads. This will certainly be time well spent!