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The Need for Emergency Egress

When the lights go out, can your people see well enough to exit your facility?

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dark stairwell with photoluminescent markings

Sometimes, good can come from great tragedy. Take for instance, the changes in emergency egress signage and marking standards since the 9/11 attacks. During the great devastation of that event lessons where learned about emergency egress – painful lessons. People could not find their way out of dark towers when the lights and emergency generators went offline. A better way had to be designed.

Among the many lessons learned, one of the most key was the need for non electric signage and markers that are self-illuminating to help guide people to the egress points. With dust and smoke filling the stair wells and hallways, the panic stricken survivors couldn’t see more than a few feet, let alone find the exit signs or emergency back-up lights placed far apart in hallways. Many survivors expressed how dark it was, how difficult to find their way to the stairways and how hard it was to go down the steps safely.

How this applies to manufacturing and warehousing

Photoluminescent floor markingsSome night, try turning off all the lights in your facility and finding your way from one side to the other. What if the area was smoke-filled? That’s the situation workers can face in an emergency. Low to no lighting, and often even lower visibility due to smoke or dust. Photoluminescent materials can help greatly in these situations. These materials absorb energy from ambient light and emit a glowing luminance that in low-light and no-light situations provide enough light to navigate through a facility. The technology can be applied to tape, plastics, metal and other substrates that can be used for signage and floor marking.

Let your facility signage and floor marking do double duty

Photoluminescent floor markingsWhen you mark floors for forklift lanes, work stations, emergency equipment and safety hazards, use photoluminescent marking tape in areas that are designated egress pathways. Or, add photoluminescent markers like footprints, dots or arrows to guide workers to safety. Mark door frames that are emergency exit points and add photoluminescent exit and safety signage in place of standard non-lit signage. Why use a plain safety sign when a photoluminescent one adds much more safety in an egress or emergency situation?

Make emergencies and evacuations as safe as possible

Photoluminescent floor markingsGo back to your scenario of trying to find your way through your facility in the dark – think about the difference it would make by having thin glowing lines marked on the floors to show you the way. Using photoluminescent tape to mark egress paths gets you to the exit points more safely, with less time spent wandering, and, in a real emergency, with less panic.

As shown in the image to the right, even simply marking doors with photoluminescent tape allows evacuees to quickly find the release bar and know where the door frame is so they aren’t groping in the dark to find the exit. Now add to that the egress safety sign at the lower center of the door. That little sign says “safety at last” to anyone in an emergency situation.

Finding safe places and safety equipment in an emergency

Let’s talk about the signage aspect in photoluminescence. Are taped lines enough to keep panic down? What about finding the fire extinguisher or fire hose in a smoke filled area? This is where photoluminescence really (excuse the pun) shines. With glow-in-the-dark signage, panic is reduced because evacuees are given instructions, direction, and information.  Some of the signs available in photoluminescent finishes are:

  • EXIT signs with and without directional arrows
  • Egress signs with man emblem, with and without directional arrows
  • Fire Hose and Fire Extinguisher signs
  • Final exit signs with man emblem and directional arrow
  • NO EXIT signs for dead end aisles and corridors
photoluminescent emergency egress signs photoluminescent emergency egress signs photoluminescent emergency egress signs photoluminescent emergency egress signs photoluminescent emergency egress signs

Codes and requirements

There are several safety code considerations in the type of photoluminescent signs and marking products you select. First and foremost, check to see what local codes are. Some parts of the nation use the NY MEA standards, while others require UL listed products. Here are some of the standards as set forth by the certifying organizations.


The standards here are a direct result of the lessons learned from 9/11. They provide the minimum requirements for photoluminescent exit path markings in case main power and back-up power are both interrupted. The standard is that the photoluminescent markings and signs will provide directions and outlines of egress paths, stairs, and obstacles in dark conditions. The markings should be located in a low position in the event of smoke and to be easily seen in crowded conditions. Products used must be certified based on brightness, washability, toxicity, radioactivity and flame spread rate. The full standards document contains the specific certification requirements and usage/placement directions.

UL924 Listed

UL924 listing is based on certification by Underwriters Laboratory. The scope of this standard is that emergency lighting should supply illumination in the event of main power loss. Specific standards are written for luminescent materials. More information may be found at: Underwriters Laboratories

ETL Listed

All across the U.S. and Canada the ETL mark on a product is accepted by builders and facility owners as that product being in compliance with all North American safety standards. That compliance includes electrical, gas and other safety standards applying to product safety. More and more products are carrying the ETL mark throughout North America. Below is a list of standards tested to for the North American market in order to become an ETL Listed product:

  • UL
  • ANSI
  • CSA
  • ASTM
  • NFPA
  • NOM

UL 1994 Listed

The UL 1994 listing includes products certified under the UL1994 standard for luminous egress path marking systems.  Building and life safety code authorities often rely on this standard for evaluating whether a facility meets building and life safety codes for their jurisdiction. It includes information about egress path marking systems as they relate to floor proximity, facility features such as doors, door hardware, door frames, stairs, stair landings, banisters, obstacles, and symbols used on placards and signage. You may read a special brochure created by Underwriters Laboratories at: UL1994 Brochure.


This is the international standard for symbols, graphics and colors for global safety signage. Products certified and listed under ISO1070 are appropriate for using outside the United States and will soon be included in building codes across Europe.

If the unforeseen should happen, will your egress system be sufficient?

Even with the best planning, things happen that we can never be fully prepared for. Lives are at stake in emergencies. Getting to a safe place is all your workers will be interested in. Adding photoluminescent signage and egress path markings greatly enhance all other safety measures you have. They help keep panic levels low. They give evacuees confidence that there is a path to safety. They take the guesswork out of finding safety. Make sure that when the unforeseen happens, your egress system works and is more than sufficient in an emergency. Make sure your workers can get to a safe place even in the midst of disaster.


Note: many of these products are available through Cisco-Eagle.

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Scott Stone is Cisco-Eagle's Vice President of Marketing with more than thirty years of experience in material handling, warehousing and industrial operations. His work is published in multiple industry journals an websites on a variety of warehousing topics. He writes about automation, warehousing, safety, manufacturing and other areas of concern for industrial operations and those who operate them.

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