Fire Exit Signs Regulations

Fire Exit Signs Regulations

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provide oversight for the material used in fire exit signs and for establishing exit routes to be used in the event of a natural disaster. Regulations for material used to create exit signs ensures that flammable or radioactive materials like tritium or americium are properly managed and discarded. Exit route regulations are distributed to federal, state, regional and local governing authorities to ensure that all public buildings have safe and well-designed exit signs marking departure routes.


As reported by the EPA, a large percentage of older exit signs contain the radioactive material tritium. The material is housed in tubes that fit inside the fire exit signs. When blended with a light producing chemical, tritium makes fire exit signs easier to see, especially in dimly lit areas. The signs can be seen during an electrical outage or fire if a building’s lights are completely out. This makes the tritium-based signs attractive. However, because of their radioactive quality, the EPA, in partnership with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), has clear guidelines about handling the signs. Exit signs made with tritium are never to be tampered with and must be clearly labeled to alert all passersby that the sign contains the radioactive material. If the tubes crack or break, the surrounding area is to be immediately evacuated, and an NCR officer and a state Radiation Protection Program officer are to be contacted immediately.

Organizations and businesses can also use policy fire exit signs made of light-emitting diode (LED). The signs are not made with tritium and have an average lifespan of 25 years. LED fire exit signs are found at offices, homes and department superstores like Staples, Office Max, Target, Lowe’s, Sears and Wal-Mart. The signs are made of aluminum, stainless steel or brass; glow in the dark. The downside to these signs is that if building power is disrupted, the signs might not work. A third material used in fire exit signs is strontium oxide aluminate. Signs made with this material are referred to as photo luminescent (PL). The signs do not use a radioactive material and can continue to operate even during an electrical failure. The signs can be found at most hardware and home improvement stores.

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OSHA’s 1986 fire exit signs requirement, Standard Number 1910:37, states that all exit signs have to be illuminated or well lit by a proven light source for a minimum of 5 foot-candles or 54 lux. The light source must put out a distinctive color to allow all persons entering and exiting the building to be able to clearly see the fire exit sign at all times. Self-illuminating fire exit signs, as well as signs that use electricity to illuminate or glow, are also permissible if their illumination surface covers at least 0.06 foot lamberts.


Standard Number 1910:37 also requires that all fire exit signs have the word “Exit” clearly printed across their front and back. The word “Exit” must be at least 6 inches high. Each letter in the word must be at least 3/4 inch wide.

Clear Path

OHSA requires that explosive material and chemicals, as well as miscellaneous equipment like furniture and decorations, be clear of fire exit signs. The signs and exit routes must be situated in places that do not require employees, customers and clients to travel through hazardous or dangerous areas. In the event that a site must create an exit route and place a fire exit sign near a hazard area, the area is to be isolated with sturdy partitions or barriers. Exit signs shall not direct people into bathrooms, or into dead end zones.

Proper Directional Routing

Fire exit signs must be positioned so that they provide a one directional exit out of a facility or building. Signs must be near the closest exit door. Fire exit signs must be clearly visible for 24 hours.

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Fire exit signs that remain lit in the event of a power outage provide the broadest benefit. However, it is important to consider the material of which the exit signs are created. To be safe, when constructing a new building or opening a new business, contact your local fire safety inspector and ask him to review the type of signs you are using, and check that you have ample exit signs and that they are properly placed throughout your establishment.