Question About a Dead End in an Outdoor Exit Route 

QUESTION:  OSHA 1910 Subpart E, 1910.36 (h)(4), which says "The outdoor exit route must not have a dead-end that is longer than 20 feet", does not make sense to me. How should I interpret that statement? - Glen K. – Indiana

ANSWER:  Hello Glen.  Yours is a very good question, and it actually comes up occasionally in our OSHA 30 hour general industry training classes. Fortunately I did some research on this particular OSHA standard years many ago when I ran into this exact problem at a building where I was serving as safety manager. I am going refer you to a crude drawing I whipped up (see below – birds eye view, not to scale) to try and help you visualize one basic example of this situation as I try and answer your question.

The fire alarm goes off in the building pictured below, and everyone needs to head towards their designated assembly area, which is located outside to the right-hand side of the building pictured below. To get there, some of the building occupants will choose to exit through the emergency exit door located along the upper right-hand side of the building, where they will be discharged into a long, relatively narrow fenced-in area. Once outside, they must turn to their right and then walk straight ahead, where eventually they will come to an opening in the fence on their left where they can turn to get to their designated assembly area. But what if they walked past the opening in the fence, all the way to the end of the fenced-in area? They would hit a dead end. So they would have to turn back around and walk the other way to get back to the opening in the fence. That’s okay, so long as the distance measured from the opening in the fence to the dead end does not exceed twenty feet. 

Dead End Route of Exit

As stated earlier, this drawing provided here represents only one example of how this situation might occur. But when you understand the basic premise of what this particular OSHA standard addresses, you can see how this situation could arise in many other design scenarios. And the same rule applies to them all; no dead end in any outdoor route of exit longer than 20 feet is allowed.

By ensuring compliance with this particular OSHA standard, you will help prevent someone from wasting too much valuable time traveling a long distance towards what they thought was the exit route leading to their designated assembly area, only to find out they have to turn around and head back the other way.

Hope this explanation answers your question satisfactorily. - Curtis Chambers, MS, CSP


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