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Understanding Fire Exit Signs

As a minimum requirement, every building should have at least one set of fire or emergency exit signs. These signs should:
  • Clearly direct people to fire exits
  • Be noticeable when there’s reduced visibility
  • Comply with British Standards

British vs. European Standards

Previously in the UK, fire exit notices were acceptable if they complied with British or European standards. However, a recent decision has been made to use signs with internationally recognised symbols, so neither are acceptable. Now, all signs must comply with EN7010, which has been mostly based on the British Standard. The main difference between these two types of sign is the pictograph they include. A pictograph is a simple image or symbol that conveys a meaning. In fire exit signs, this is the image of the running stick man and fire door. Fire Exit Sign Old British Standard fire exit signs and the new EN7010 use pictographs of a stick man running through a fire door. European Standard exit signs display the running  man as one object and the fire door as another. To conform with new EN7010 standards, your exit sign will need to include:
  • An arrow (excluding the final fire exit sign)
  • A running man travelling through a fire door
  • Text that reads ‘Fire exit’ or ‘Exit
If in doubt, check that any signs you purchase are compliant with EN7010.

Lighting – what you need to know

It’s important that fire exit signs use some sort of lighting. This is because during a fire, the power may fail and people will be unable to see the signs. Also, smoke may obscure vision. Lit exit signs will be easier to notice. Most standard emergency exit use photoluminescent phosphorescence lighting. This is where light is absorbed and re-emitted to illuminate the sign. It is similar to fluorescent lighting – the only difference being that photoluminescent material absorbs and re-emits light more slowly. This means that the emergency sign will be lit at a lower intensity for longer. Some signs will use electric lighting, which is also acceptable. However, it’s crucial that they use a local, rechargeable power source which is separate from the main supply. This will ensure that the sign will continue to be lit if the main power source fails.

How many emergency exit signs do you need?

Of course, the exact number of signs you’ll need entirely depends on your building. If you have a larger building with more turns, you’ll need more signs. Rather than monitoring the number of signs, it’s better to check that the ones you do have are correctly placed.

Where to place fire exit signs

When placing signs, bear in mind that at least one fire exit sign should always visible at all times. This is so that nobody gets lost or confused and takes the wrong route. Here are some basic guidelines to follow:
  • Place a sign at the end of corridors
  • Mark a change of direction with a new sign
  • Place a diagonal arrow near stairways to indicate a level change
  • Mount exit signs at eye level where they’ll be seen
  • Place a ‘final fire exit’ sign on the fire door itself
Tempting as it may be, never attempt to blend fire exit signs in with your décor. This may make them more aesthetically pleasing, but it will also make them more difficult to notice in an emergency. Remember, at least one sign should always be visible. This may mean opting for a large sign or investing in a suspended sign to place midway down long corridors.

How to choose your fire exit routes

Fire exit routes should take people to the nearest emergency exit. So make sure each exit route is as short as possible. Each fire exit door should have at least one set of signs leading to it. So if you have two fire exits, you’ll need at least two separate sets of signs. If there is more than one way of reaching the same emergency exit, give directions for the shortest route. If both routes are equally as short, each path should be marked with a separate set of signs. photo credit: LoopZilla via photopin cc
  • Written by: Alex

    Another great post..the more people are informed the greater understanding they will have, which can only benefit them in the future.

  • Written by: Darren

    Thanks for a good post. Helping people think about how to use fire exit signs properly is very worthwhile. One small correction if I may on design standards? There is now only one accepted design standard for fire exit signs which is EN7010. The signs look very similar to the old ‘British Standard’ BS5499 type – with a man on the exit door, arrow & text. The old ‘European’ standard (EEC 92/58 type) with the man and the door separated is no longer accepted. There’s no requirement to replace existing signs – but you shouldn’t use anything except EN7010 signs for new build or replacements.


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