What Are Blocked Exits?

In any workplace, employees must have easy access to exits in an emergency. Blocked exits can create serious safety hazards and put employees at risk. A blocked exit is any exit that is not clear and unobstructed.

It could include exits that are physically blocked by objects, furniture exits that are locked, or exits that are obstructed by debris.

Any of these scenarios could prevent employees from quickly and easily exiting the building in an emergency, so it's essential to keep exits clear at all times.

Why Are Blocked Exits a Problem?

In the event of a fire or other emergency, every second counts. If employees can't quickly and easily get to an emergency exit, it could mean the difference between life and death. 

Additionally, blocked exits can violate fire codes and result in hefty fines for businesses. Exit signs must always be visible to indicate the nearest exit, ensuring a safe exit during an emergency. Understanding the importance of workplace safety is crucial in these situations.

Impediments to Evacuation

Blocked exits are dangerous because they impede evacuation during an emergency. People may need more time to get out of the building, or they may get trapped behind the obstruction. 

Locked doors or unsafe storage that impedes the path of travel to emergency exit doors can significantly increase the risk of harm in high-hazard areas. 

In some cases, people may even try to move the obstruction themselves, which can further delay evacuation or lead to injuries. Only trained personnel should attempt to move anything that is blocking an exit.

A ScienceDirect study on evacuation behaviors and emergency communications offers an analysis of real-world incidents, emphasizing the importance of clear and unobstructed paths in emergencies.

Legal and Safety Obligations

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA): 

"Exit routes must be free of obstructions or impediments that could restrict use. Means of egress are components of buildings or structures required by the code to provide safe passage from any point in a building or structure to an exterior point cleared of hazard." 

Companies should ensure that they prepare comprehensive emergency action plans, including requirements for exit routes and access to emergency exits. Businesses that fail are often subjected to hefty fines. 

This PubMed evidence review on exit blocks in emergency departments provides a critical appraisal of the consequences of blocked exits, reinforcing the legal and safety imperatives for maintaining clear egress paths.

How to Prevent Blocked Exits

The best way to prevent blocked exits is to have a good housekeeping policy. All employees should know what is expected of them when it comes to keeping exits clear. Housekeeping should be done regularly, and any obstructions should be removed immediately.

All employees should also know how to report a blocked exit. There should be a designated person responsible for addressing any reports of obstructed exits. Having a clear plan can help ensure all exits are clear and everyone knows what to do if they come across a blocked exit.

Devising a Safety Plan

The first step in creating a blocked exit safety plan is identifying potential blockages. These could include anything from large pieces of furniture to stacks of boxes or materials that could obstruct an exit route. It is crucial to take into account the possible causes of these blockages as well, such as unsafe storage practices or building alterations.

Considerations for identifying blockages should include:

  • Surveying for large objects that could obstruct paths: Regular checks should be conducted to ensure that new hazards have not been introduced into exit route doors.
  • Assessing improper storage practices: Evaluating current storage solutions and methods can reveal how they contribute to potential blockages and what changes are necessary to maintain an unobstructed path.
  • Noting areas where exits are narrow or restricted: Special attention should be given to these areas to ensure they are kept clear, as they are already at a higher risk for becoming impassable during an emergency, especially if there is an accumulation of snow or flammable furnishings nearby.

Once potential blockages are identified, creating a response plan is crucial. This plan should detail:

  • The designation of personnel responsible for monitoring blocked exits: These individuals should be trained to recognize potential hazards and have the authority to take immediate action to remove them.
  • Procedures for quick and safe removal of blockages: Clear guidelines must be established for the secure handling and disposal of objects to prevent further safety risks.
  • Communication strategies for informing personnel of blocked exits: A reliable communication system should be in place to alert employees of any issues with exit routes promptly.
  • Protocols for emergencies to ensure safe evacuation: These protocols should be practiced regularly so that in an emergency, everyone knows the procedures to follow for a safe exit.

For industry-specific safety solutions and to see how Protex AI can be tailored to your business needs, explore our Protex industries page.

Training Personnel

Training is essential for those responsible for monitoring and responding to blocked exits. Training should encompass:

  • Proper procedures for clearing blockages: Personnel should be trained not only on how to remove obstructions but also on how to identify and mitigate risks associated with the task.
  • Effective communication during emergencies: Staff must be trained to quickly communicate the presence of a blocked exit to ensure everyone's safety, including understanding the design of exit access and the direction of exit travel. 

Training should also cover AI privacy and security concerns when implementing new technologies. In addition to training on physical tasks, addressing mental barriers is also vital. This can be achieved by:

  • Conducting regular drills to reinforce familiarity with evacuation plans and routes: Drills help to ensure that the response to an actual emergency will be swift and organized. Insights from a White Rose Research PDF study on exit blocks in emergency departments underscore the need for regular training to manage exit blocks and ensure a safe evacuation effectively.
  • Educating workers on the importance of situational awareness to always know the nearest exit location: Continuous education can help to combat complacency and keep safety at the forefront of employees' minds.

Use Protex AI to Improve Workplace Safety

Protex AI is a workplace safety solution that uses artificial intelligence to empower employers, plugging directly into the company's CCTV network. 

It allows companies to monitor employee behavior better. It provides detailed information about any safety-related events, including adherence to emergency exit regulations and routes. By fostering a proactive workplace safety culture, Protex AI helps companies anticipate and prevent incidents before they occur.

Implementing a comprehensive safety plan for blocked exits will help minimize risks associated with blocked pathways while also providing peace of mind, knowing that you've taken every precaution necessary to protect your staff from potentially hazardous conditions caused by blocked pathways leading out of the building

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'AI’s Role in Promoting a Proactive Safety Culture'