One of the most shocking incidents in American industrial history occurred on March 25, 1911, in New York City. The Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory burned, killing 146 workers. The tragedy was largely preventable as most victims died due to neglected safety features and locked doors within the building. A lucky few managed to make it to the roof or elevator safely. However, many more died jumping to their deaths or trying to escape via the rickety fire escape that twisted and collapsed, hurling people to their deaths.
The event brought attention to the wretched sweatshop conditions of factories and led to new laws and requirements that better-protected workers’ safety. The many new safety laws enacted due to this historical event include standardizing emergency exit signs for commercial buildings.
Exit signs required in commercial and multi-unit residential buildings
Chances are, when entering a commercial or multi-unit residential building, you will notice signs indicating where to exit in case of an emergency. This requirement stems from the lessons learned in the aftermath of the chronicled Triangle fire. When there is no power to light the way to safety, exit signs are a type of visual aid required by local building codes to ensure everyone can get out safely in an emergency by guiding them through an exit path with a clearly marked sign.
Exit signs and emergency lighting are required in public and commercial buildings under federal and state safety regulations and must be visible at all times. The signs must appear at all points of egress from a building and all areas inside a building leading to the point of exit. Failure to install these signs may result in fines and other problems with your local safety inspector, as well as injury or even loss of life for employees and patrons.
Choosing the correct fixture for your application is essential to creating a safe environment. And exit signs come in various styles to compliment a decorative aesthetic and illumination methods. When choosing an exit sign, the first thing to consider is geographical location and color.
Exit Sign Color. Red, Green…and Orange?
The color of an exit sign can influence the clarity with which we see the sign. Green and red are predominant colors in the United States, where local authorities responsible for monitoring and enforcing local codes have jurisdiction over exit sign requirements such as size and color. There are outliers to this; for example, in Helena, Montana, you will notice orange exit signs.
Recently there has been a movement to adopt green illumination for exit signs rather than the traditional red. The logic behind the “color controversy” includes compelling arguments on both sides. Team Red will argue that red is the most visible color and has historically been used to grab someone’s attention. Team Red will also offer that red is the standard color for emergency communication. Team Green counters with the logic that the color green has long been associated with “go” or “safety” – which the exit sign is conveying to those who need to exit a building during an emergency.
Not quite sure what the color orange conveys to the occupant of a building, but it must work in Helena.
Cities with local requirements for exit signs
The country’s most densely populated cities also have specific requirements for exit signs. For example:
New York City (5 Boroughs)
- Letters must be Red 8″
- Metal Housing (“New York City Approved”)
Click here for a product list of approved NYC signs: https://isolite.com/exit-signs-combos/#new-york-city-exit-signs
- Letters must be Red (6″ tall, 3/4″ stroke)
- Metal Housing (Stamped “Chicago Approved”)
Click here for a list of approved City of Chicago exit signs: https://isolite.com/exit-signs-combos/#city-of-chicago-exit-signs
Los Angeles (downtown – multi-story buildings and “Sky Scrapers”)
- Letters must be Green (standard size) and dual-circuit relay backup.
- “City of Los Angeles Approved”
The running man exit sign
Finally, if you’ve traveled internationally, you may have seen exits marked by a green pictograph of a stick figure running through a doorway. Designed by Yukio Ota in the late 1970s, this symbol was adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1985. Many countries have adopted this new version of the exit sign, and these are now available in the USA.
Choose the right emergency exit sign.
Choosing the correct exit sign can be daunting. We are here to help. Isolite has been providing American-made emergency exit and lighting solutions for over 35 years and offers a full range of emergency exit signage for your public or commercial space. Partner with us and your local authorities to make the right choice.