Do You Need a Red or Green Exit Sign?

Learn what the regulatory agencies say about the requirements of exit signs.

Searching for an exit sign for your building but not sure if you need a red or green color option? Here are answers to the most common questions about exit sign requirement.

What regulatory agencies govern exit signs?

There are several regulatory agencies out there that govern emergency lighting and sign requirements. The regulating authorities include the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Join Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization (JCAHO), International Building Code, and International Fire Code.

If the list of regulatory agencies wasn’t long enough, the local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJ) over specific exit sign requirements, such as colors. The local AHJ is responsible for monitoring and enforcing local building codes.

Although exit signs with red or green lettering are generally acceptable, some states have adopted specific preferences for the color of exit signs. If you’re unsure who to reach out to regarding local emergency exit requirements, the fire marshal or inspector is a good starting point.

What does OSHA say about exit sign color?

Per OSHA CFR 29 1910.37, as long as the color of the sign is distinct, the color restrictions are up to the governing state and municipal agencies.  In the majority of US cities, you’ll notice red or green exit signs, but in Helena, Montana you’ll notice orange exit signs as well.

When constructing or remodeling, check with your local fire marshal to ensure you’re following the correct color guidelines for your municipality.

What are OSHA requirements?

Federal regulations, such as OSHA CFR 29 1910.37(b) require exit routes to be adequately lighted with exits marked by a sign reading, “Exit.” OSHA requires for exit signs is found below:

OSHA defines “exit route” as, “a continuous and unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety (including refuge areas).” An exit route includes all vertical and horizontal areas along the route and consists of the following three parts:

  1. Exit access − The portion of an exit route that leads to an exit. An example of an exit access is a corridor on the fifth floor of an office building that leads to a two-hour fire-resistance-rated enclosed stairway (the Exit).
  2. Exit − The portion of an exit route that is generally separated from other areas to provide a protected way of travel to the exit discharge. An example of an exit is a two-hour fire-resistance-rated enclosed stairway that leads from the fifth floor of an office building to the outside of the building.
  3. Exit Discharge− The part of the exit route that leads directly outside or to a street, walkway, refuge area, public way, or open space with access to the outside. An example of an exit discharge is a door at the bottom of a two-hour fire-resistance-rated enclosed stairway that discharges to a place of safety outside the building.

OSHA makes reference to its acceptance of the NFPA’s emergency exit requirements under 1910.35, where it notes that employers who are following the exit-route provisions of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, meet OSHA’s requirements.

What are NFPA Exit Sign Requirements?

In the 2015 edition of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, section 7.10 are specific information regarding the placement, visibility and acceptable forms of illumination for exit signs.

Sign placement – new exit signs must be located so that no point in an exit access corridor is in excess of the sign’s rated viewing distance or 100-feet, whichever is less, from the nearest sign. And exit signs with directional indicators must be placed in every location where the direction of travel to reach the nearest exit is not apparent.

Exit doors are considered the most important doors in your facility or workplace. Be sure you have compliant exit signs at every one.