Question: If we’re storing hazardous materials, how far from an exit do they have to be?
Answer: Several different Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and consensus standards come into play when you are looking at exit route safety.
OSHA has created a lot of guidance documents and information to help facilities ensure that their exit routes are well-constructed, safely designed and capable of getting employees out of the building efficiently and effectively when there is an emergency.
In the Means of Egress Regulations, OSHA makes it clear that nothing that could cause harm to an employee can be in an exit path [29 CFR 1910.37(a)]. To further clarify this requirement, OSHA adds the qualifier that “exit routes must be arranged so that employees will not have to travel toward a high hazard area, unless the path of travel is effectively shielded from the high hazard area by suitable partitions or other physical barriers.”
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Hazardous materials such as compressed gasses (29 CFR 1910.110) and flammable liquids (29 CFR 1910.106) are specifically prohibited in exit routes by regulation, but it is important to consider other hazards that employees may face such as pipelines and electrical systems.
Exit routes must also be free of obstructions such as boxes, planters, curtains or any other item that could be tripped over or otherwise delay someone from exiting the building during an emergency.
Local fire marshals, code enforcement officers or other local authorities having jurisdiction in your area are all great resources for help with determining safe locations for storing materials, as well as verifying whether or not an exit route meets all of the local codes for safe evacuation in your area.