OSHA's Revised Exit Routes Standard Effective December 9, 2002

On November 7th, 2002, OSHA published its final revised rule regulating emergency exits, emergency action plans, and fire prevention plans (Subpart E of section 1910). The existing rule, which is applicable to all general industry employers, has remained substantially unchanged it was promulgated about thirty years ago. It was one of the "start-up standards" adopted from recognized national consensus standards under section 6(a) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. While section 6(a) permitted OSHA to get a quick start on employee safety regulation, the adopted standards often were not models of clarity. That was the case with Subpart E. It was plagued internal inconsistencies, wordiness, and unhelpful bureaucratic jargon.

The primary intent of the revised rule is to make the rule clearer - a point that the preamble is careful to emphasize. Existing requirements, in general, have been "rewritten in simple, straight-forward, easy to understand terms." The structure of the text has been reorganized and internal inconsistencies and duplicative requirements removed. The result, in the Agency's words, is a rule that is "more concise than the original, with fewer subparagraphs, and fewer cross-references to other OSHA standards."

In fact, OSHA insists the revised rule does not substantively change either the regulatory obligations of employers or the protections for employees that existed under the prior rule, including Agency interpretations and judicial rulings. In other words, "employers who are in compliance with the original Subpart E will continue to be in compliance with the revised Subpart E that is being promulgated in this rule."

A table demonstrating the reorganization of the substantive topics of the revised rule is provided below:

Section Topic of Prior Rule Topic of Revised Rule
1910.33 Not Applicable Table of Contents
1910.34 Not Applicable Coverage and Definitions
1910.35 Defintions Compliance with NFPA 101-2000, Life Safety Code
1910.36 General Requirements Design and Construction Requirements for Exit Routes
1910.37 Means of Egress, General Maintenance, Safeguards, and Operational Features for Exit Routes
1910.38 Employee Emergency Action Plans and Fire Prevention Plans Emergency Action Plans
1910.39 Not Applicable Fire Prevention Plans
Appendix Means of Egress No Appendix

Significant Highlights of the Revised Rule:

  • A More Descriptive Title for Subpart E. The somewhat cryptic title, "Means of Egress," has been replaced with the more descriptive, "Exit Routes, Emergency Action Plans, and Fire Prevention Plans."
  • Simplified Language. The revision of Subpart E became one of first projects for the Clinton administration's plain language initiative. The plan language mandate was intended to root out unhelpful bureaucratese in government regulations. As a result, among other simplifications, the term "means of egress" is no longer used in the revised rule. It has been replaced throughout Subpart E with the phrase "exit routes."
  • Reorganized Text. In addition to the structural realignment reflected in the above table, the Agency has re-grouped the standard's requirements more intuitively as follows: (1) design and construction requirements; (2) maintenance, safeguards, and operational requirements; and (3) requirements for warning employees of the need to escape. The Agency attributes this aspect of the reorganization with the elimination of many duplicative provisions. For example, the requirement for locating multiple exit routes as far away as possible from each other is covered in the prior rule at 1910.36(b)(8) and at 1910.37(e). The revised rule addresses the issue only once, at 1910.36(b).
  • Alternative Compliance. Employers may choose to comply with the National Fire Protection Association's Standard 101, Life Safety Code, 2000 Edition (NFPA 101-2000), instead of the requirements of Subpart E. The prior rule had no comparable provision. In general, one can anticipate the NFPA requirements will be more rigorous than those of Subpart E. Nevertheless, employers may find that certain aspects of the Life Safety Code are more flexible than that of the OSHA standard. For instance, 1910.36(e)(1) mandates the use of side-hinged doors to connect any room to an exit route. However, because the Life Safety Code permits certain alternative configurations involving sliding doors and turnstiles, employers are not necessarily limited by the mandatory language of the revised standard.
  • Other Miscellaneous Changes. The revised rule removes obligations pertaining to the protection of the general public but which are otherwise unrelated specifically to employee protection. References to recommended, as opposed to mandatory actions (i.e., provisions that use "should" or "may"), also have been purged from the revised rule.

As with the current rule, the revised standard includes specifications for emergency action plans and fire prevention plans. Any such plan that is required by other general industry standards must comply with these specifications. As of December 9, 2002, these standards are:

  • The Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals Standard, paragraph 1910.119(n) - emergency action plan.
  • The Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard, paragraphs 1910.120(l)(1)(ii), (p)(8)(i), (q)(1), and (q)(11)(ii) - emergency action plan.
  • The Portable Fire Extinguishers Standard, paragraphs 1910.157(a) and (b)(1) - emergency action plan and fire prevention plan.
  • The Grain Handling Facilities Standard, paragraph 1910.272(d) - emergency action plan.
  • The Ethylene Oxide Standard, paragraph 1910.1047(h)(1)(iii) - emergency action plan and fire prevention plan.
  • The Methylenedianiline Standard, paragraph 1910.1050(d)(1)(iii) - emergency action plan and fire prevention plan.
  • The 1,3-Butadiene Standard, paragraph 1910.1051(j) - emergency action plan and fire prevention plan.

Subpart E of 1910 is a far-reaching standard with broad applicability in the work place. The attorneys of Jackson Lewis will be happy to assist you in reviewing your company's compliance with this significant rule.