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The regs: The correct use of escape signs

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Geoff Wilkinson explains the official guidance covering provision of escape route signage in buildings

I have had a number of queries recently about the correct use of escape signs, so I thought I would address this. While Approved Document B (5.37) requires that every escape route (excluding those in houses and flats) be provided with suitable escape signage, it gives little advice beyond that.

The guidance can be found in BS 5499 Part 4 2000, and says that you should identify the primary escape route from each place within the premises. If there is a choice of escape routes, the escape signs should be located to indicate the shortest travel route. If there is a choice of two escape routes of equal distance, both should be indicated by separate series of signs. It is not necessary to provide signs to every possible escape route from every area. When deciding locations for signage, the following principles should be applied:

  • At least one escape route should be visible from every room or enclosure. Where this route is not conspicuous or confusion could occur, the route should be indicated by a sign. If there is only one door out of a room, a sign is not always required.
  • Where direct sight of the escape route or of the sign is obstructed, intermediate signs should be provided.
  • Doors or passageways which might be confused as leading to a designated escape route should be marked clearly; but escape route signs should take precedence over all other signs. For example, signs with a potentially confusing message (eg ‘no thoroughfare’ and ‘fire exit’) should not be used in the same location.
  • All changes of direction in corridors, doors, stairways and open spaces forming part of an escape route should be marked with intermediate signs. These should be positioned so anyone passing along a corridor will always be able to see a sign where a choice has to be made.
  • Signs should be evenly spaced and consistently located so that the evacuee can effectively and quickly predict the location of the next sign within the escape route.
  • Additional signs should be provided where the line of sight to the next sign would otherwise exceed the recommended maximum viewing distance for the chosen size of sign (typically 17m for 100mm lettering and 25m for 150mm lettering).
  • A place of safety should be provided with a sign indicating ‘assembly point’.
  • Signs should be positioned so they are not obscured by opening doors.

Having decided where the signs are needed, the next consideration is the graphic and the wording. The ‘running man’ graphic can be either green man on white door or white man on green door outlined in white. The green figure is preferred where the lighting is projected onto the face of the sign. The white figure is preferred for self-luminous and internally illuminated signs.
Then there is a choice of text to be used on the sign.


This sign should be used for a doorway or other suitable opening that leads to a place of safety



Whereas this sign should be used to indicate a an alternative to the main exit doorway or opening that leads to a place of safety, to be used in the event of the evacuation of the premises.


Lastly there is the choice of directional arrow - this causes problems even among building inspectors as to correct usage. A diagonal arrow means that escape is down and to the side (for example, to a ramp or stair on the right hand side of the viewing position). A diagonal up arrow would mean up and to the side, though up arrows can also mean progress across the room and to the side (for example, from one corner to the other).


An up arrow means that escape is forward and straight on or forward and straight up. It should be used over a door in a corridor, or to indicate escape up a flight of stairs (for example, from a basement). This is the one most commonly misused.


A horizontal arrow to the side means that there is a change in direction of escape to either the left or right, but no change in level.


An arrow pointing down means escape is in a downward direction and is commonly used within a staircase enclosure.
Lastly, although commonly shown in landscape format, signs can also be arranged in portrait format.

Geoff Wilkinson is managing director of Wilkinson Construction Consultants

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