Question: Can I temporarily close off a fire exit during construction or building repairs?
Answer: Exit routes are essential. During an emergency, everyone needs a safe pathway for quickly leaving a building. This is why the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that an adequate number of exit routes be maintained at all times [29 CFR 1910.37].
OSHA also specifies that exit routes must be maintained during construction, repairs or other alterations [29 CFR 1910.37(d)]. If any part of an exit route needs to be temporarily closed, alternate exit routes must be established so that everyone can still leaving the building safely.
Designers, engineers, safety officers and in some cases the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) should work together to determine and designate alternate exit routes. When these have been determined, the following steps will help ensure that building occupants can still exit safely:
- Cover all affected illuminated exit signs so they cannot mislead building occupants to an unusable exit
- Post signage that directs building occupants to the alternate exit
- Communicate the temporary changes to all building occupants through appropriate means such as notices and newsletters
- Conduct a fire or evacuation drill to determine if the changes sufficiently ensure everyone’s safety in an emergency.
When the construction or remodeling project has been completed and the previous exit routes have been restored, building occupants must be notified again. OSHA takes exit route compliance very seriously and does not permit exit paths to be blocked, even temporarily, without establishing and building awareness of alternate pathways.