Question: How many exit routes should we have? Also, is it okay to temporarily block an exit route?
Answer: Generally, you’ll need to have at least two solid exit routes for your employees and your operation, but more exit routes may be required depending on the number of people onsite and/or the size of your building. If you have a small number of employees in a small building, and employees can exit safely during an emergency, it’s possible that one exit route is allowed.
Temporarily blocking exits is not permitted and not safe. Federal and state safety and health inspectors will issue citations for blocked exits, and the penalties are significant. Recently, Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) announced that it will require a retail store in Vancouver, Washington, to pay a fine of $503,200, in part because L&I found blocked exits on multiple visits to the location.
When you say that an exit is blocked only “temporarily,” you might mean six hours, six days, or six months. It’s like saying “we haven’t gotten to it and we don’t know when we will.” If a fire breaks out or an active shooter comes to the workplace, it doesn’t help knowing that the blockage was intended to be only temporary. Keeping exit routes clear is an ongoing duty for employees and employers alike during monthly or quarterly inspections of the building. Preferably, inspection walkthroughs happen on a daily basis. Routine, ongoing housekeeping is a simple way to ensure items don’t collect and build up. And when space is limited, making sure exit routes stay clear should be a regular action item for employees and a high priority for employers.