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Guidance from above

27 February 2009

With EN 7010 on the horizon there has never been a better time to audit and review your premise.In times of crisis we all look for guidance. In any premise and especially in large premises, those with long exit distances and times, winding escape route corridors and multiple exits, correct signage is imperative to the safety of staff and visitors.

Guidance from above
Guidance from above

In the event of a fire emergency persons will often be looking to signs for instruction on what to do and how to proceed.

In the UK today and indeed Europe wide the correct use of signs is still not fully understood. This does not mean there is not guidance.

Comprehensive reference material can be found in the form of three linking International Standard Documents.

These linking standards form a system of principles and best practice for the design and implementation of correct safety signing in premises.

ISO 16069 gives guidance on how to correctly formulate and implement a safety way guidance system which in emergencies will lead persons to safety. In order to ensure the system is effective the use of signs that are standardised in accordance with ISO 7010 betters the chances that the evacuee has previously experienced them and will have been instructed in their meaning. Failing this, the signs having been designed in accordance with ISO 3864 will ensure that any evacuee not familiar with the particular sign and its meaning will have the best possible chance of intuitively understanding the signs guidance.

Careful consideration must be given in the draft phase of a standard to ensure it is as accurate and applicable to the subject matter as possible. Later standards will use previous ones as an integral part of their best practice recommendations. The process of review however is important as developments in technology, new research and real life application can alter established principles for methods of safeguarding, best practice and correct implementation. The review ensures that the solid grounding the standard should already possess is maintained or improved upon.

ISO 10609 can be argued as being the logical conclusion of a standard such as ISO 7010. We produce a best practice standard for designing safety signs (ISO 7010) with the intention that they eventually be used to guide and aid in an emergency (ISO 16069).

It certainly helps to have an international standard for the sake of foreign nationals who may be involved in a situation in a country with an alien tongue. ISO 10609, the principles of its contents can be summarised as at any point in a building a person must have site of an exit (not necessarily the final exit). The signs in place must lead directly to it; the signs must lead to the closest exit; you should be able to reliably predict the position of the next sign; a sign is required at every change of direction, level and decision point on escape route and all signs should conform to ISO 7010.

What ISO 10609 attempts to achieve in these tenants is a complete reduction in ambiguity. This is not possible with a non-standardised system of signs.

With ISO 7010 soon to change to become a European Normative, requiring adoption by all EU member states to ensure correct signing in all premises, it gives good cause to review the signing employed at your premise.

British Standard 5499, the standard for which most of ISO 7010 is based on, has been in place some time now in the UK. The standard requires signs that are appropriately illuminated even under power loss conditions. This is achieved by traditional emergency lighting installed over every sign or the use of tested and accredited photoluminescent signs.

The Health & Safety Sign Regulations 1996 also require a review of a premise with regards to the correct safety signing in general, with fire safety as a function of this.

This coming international change should be used to improve fire safety and can be done by taking a tour of our working environments we know so well and consider if the lights were out and the smell of smoke in the air would you, or more importantly a stranger to the premises, understand where to go? Based on the signs you have in place, from anywhere in the building could you find your way out not knowing the layout? Most likely for 9 out of 10 of the exit routes for your building standardised or otherwise the safety sign instruction on direction cannot be misunderstood likely ensuring correct evacuation. For that 1 route, however, in a premises of 100 workers 10 may well be taking it to proceed to a place of safety, 5 of these may interpret the correct instruction and evacuate, 4 may guess a course of direction and be lucky and finally 1 may neither comprehend nor be lucky. This 1 proceeds down our mis-signed corridor, down the stairs at the end of it and proceeding along another until entering into a room with no other exits. This 1 is only found after the fire in the building has been extinguished but not before they died from smoke inhalation.

When EN 7010 comes in this type of incident would be likely lead to criminal prosecution for non-standardised signage.

When it comes to signs the following surely applies.

Keep it simple, keep it standard, keep it safe.

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