Fire Escape Signs

Fire escape signs are a necessary part of fire safety management because they direct people towards their nearest escape route. The number that are needed varies with the size of a premises; in small buildings it may be sufficient to simply indicate where the emergency exits are, whilst in bigger, more complex ones a series of signs is often needed to direct people along their escape route towards the eventual way out.

Blind or partially-sighted employees are obviously at a disadvantage where fire escape signs have been used, as they will be less able to locate their escape routes than those who enjoy full vision. This means other methods are required to help them locate the fire escapes, such as a well-managed 'buddy system', a set of handrails which they have been instructed to follow or a sound localisation system (a sound emitter near the exit which they hear and move towards).

Fire escape sign positioning

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 fire escape signs should be:

  • Arranged so they stand out from their surroundings and aren't overwhelmed by a lot of other brightly covered signage, such as product adverts in a shop

  • Clear and unambiguous in the way they present information

  • Designed to include a directional arrow that points toward the nearest escape route, although arrows shouldn't be used on their own and must have a picture, or some text, to accompany them

  • Positioned to indicate the nearest escape route when its location isn't obvious

  • Placed so that either the escape route itself, or the next sign indicating its location, is always visible from the previous one

  • Fixed above doors rather than to them, so that when a door is open the sign isn't obscured

  • Mounted above doors at a height between 2m and 2.5m from the floor, or above walls at a height between 1.7m and 2m from the floor

  • Only hung above 2.5m from the floor if they are in a large public area and definitely remain both conspicuous and legible, for example by being enlarged

  • Hung, to the greatest possible extent, at the same height everywhere on the escape route

Fire escape sign design

Health and safety sign regulations require all signs to be pictographic so that people don't need knowledge of a particular language to understand them. This can also be accompanied by text if it is thought words will improve their functionality, but no sign is permitted to consist solely of text.

How legible signs are for the user is determined by three factors:

  • Size

  • Illumination

  • Viewing Distance

This means that good-quality signs will be large enough to be seen from far away and have everything on them read clearly. They will also be well-lit, either by having their own miniature lighting arrangement installed underneath them, or at least being positioned low down enough on the walls that they are not above any suspended light-fittings. There will also be enough of these signs displayed around the premises that people do not have to view them from too far away.

It is considered good practice for all the signs in a building to maintain an identical colour scheme and design so they seem like consistent steps on the same journey to people following them. This may be difficult to arrange in multi-occupancy buildings, but as far as possible it is important for those in charge of each business's fire safety planning to liaise with each other (and the building's owner) to try and make sure this is the case.

Other fire safety signs

In addition to the basic fire escape signs which direct people towards escape routes, the government also requires some other types of structure to have specific fire safety notices:

  • Self-closing fire doors - Should have 'Fire Door - Keep Shut' indicated on both sides

  • Fire-resisting doors to cupboards and storerooms that are usually kept locked - Should have 'Fire Door - Keep Locked' indicated on both sides

  • Manual fire safety equipment (such as extinguishers) - Should have what it is indicated on a sign above wherever it's kept

  • Push-bar doors that include a panic bolt or panic latch - Should have 'Push bar to open' notices displayed permanently above the bar

  • Fire Escape doors that are not normally used - Should have 'Fire Escape - Keep Clear' signs positioned at about eye-level so people don't block them