Emergencies and accidents can strike anyone, anytime, and anywhere, including the workplace. The United States Department of Labor includes both natural and humanmade incidents as a workplace emergency. These include floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, toxic gas releases, chemical spills, radiological accidents, explosions, civil disturbances, and workplace violence resulting in bodily harm and trauma. Depending on the type of emergency, the responses vary and might necessitate sheltering, a lockdown, or an evacuation.
The best way to prepare for an emergency is to prevent it from happening in the first place. However, if the unthinkable occurs, accessible evacuation routes for office buildings are among the most fundamental steps to minimize damage, particularly for emergencies such as fire — which are among the most common office emergencies.
Evacuation Routes Must Align With Building Regulations
In most advanced economies, office evacuation is highly regulated to minimize the time and resources needed for all employees to abandon the building. Thus, facility managers or office administrators must consult with their local or regional authorities for best practices.
For instance, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the US specifies that there must be at least two routes to permit prompt evacuation of employees and other building occupants during an emergency. These must be permanent parts of the building structure and has a width of at least 28 inches (71 cm) at all points.
While there are often overlaps within these regulations and specifications, good evacuation routes must be well-lit, unblocked, with necessary technical fittings like security sensors, fire alarms, or doors, and as short as possible. According to EU law, every office building must have continuous acoustic and visual signals that alert people about evacuation.
Specific strategies for more vulnerable groups like the elderly or people with disabilities form an essential part of the evacuation routes planning for office buildings. Thus, any evacuation route plan is incomplete without accessible exits that can accommodate wheelchairs or other mobility challenges.
Robust Planning for Safety and Control
An inadequate plan can lead to a chaotic and disorganized evacuation, which can result in confusion, injury, and property damage. Thus, planning accessible evacuation routes is the most crucial part of a workplace’s emergency management strategy.
However, meticulous planning and uncompromising alignment with the building regulations can unleash a greater control for facility managers, create independence for those affected by the emergency — while ensuring safety for all.