Signage Inside a Stairwell

Q: Can signage, other than that specifically required for inside a fire exit stairwell according to the LSC, be placed inside a fire exit stairwell?

A: Technically… no. According to section of the 2012 LSC, it says the exit enclosure shall not be used for any purpose that has the potential to interfere with its use as an exit, and if so designated, as an area of refuge. The Annex section of A. says the intent is the exit enclosure essentially be ‘sterile’ with respect to safety hazards.

But, it probably depends on the signage that you want to install in the exit enclosure. If the signage is truly tight to the wall surface and cannot interfere with exiting, then most surveyors would not say anything. But if the signage was in the same style as a hanging framed picture, then that would likely be cited, since it could interfere with exiting when someone brushed their shoulder against the framed picture and it falls off the wall and becomes a trip hazard, or if it was tight to the wall, the projection of the frame could be an interference as well.

But, the Annex section says the stairwell should be sterile… so a technical interpretation could say nothing can be in the stairwell. I have seen surveyors cite organizations for painted-on signs inside stairwell walls because it would cause people to stop and read them, which, in the opinion of the surveyor, would cause a back-up of people egressing and in turn would interfere with the use of the stairwell. That sounds like an extreme interpretation, but one that the surveyor is permitted to make.

Strange Observations – No ‘NO EXIT’ Sign

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen while consulting at hospitals…

The door in the picture is to a courtyard where patients may go and enjoy the out-of-doors. The problem is, there is no ‘NO EXIT’ sign on the door, and in my opinion the door could be confused for an exit door.

The size and make-up of the ‘NO EXIT’ sign is very specific: The word “NO” must be 2-inches tall, and the word “EXIT” must be 1-inch tall. The word “NO” must be over the top of the word “EXIT”.

The reason the word “EXIT” is smaller than the word “NO” is the technical committee who wrote that portion of the Life Safety Code wanted people to read the word “NO” before they read the word “EXIT” while approaching the door.

Stairwell Signage

Q: With the new 2012 Life Safety Code adoption, my question is around the stairwell signage and Hospitals are confused whether they have to replace all their signs to meet this new code requirement, or if they are grandfathered-in, and not have to comply. From what I interpret from the code, this would be for new stairwells only… is this correct?

A: No… This applies to all new enclosed stairs serving three stories or more, and all existing enclosed stairs serving five stories or more. There is no ‘Grandfathering’ in the Life Safety Code. There are requirements for new construction (Chapter 18) and there are requirements for existing conditions (Chapter 19), but other than that, there is no ‘Grandfathering’.

When new editions of the Life Safety Code are adopted, facilities must comply with new requirements that apply to existing conditions. Just because the building was compliant with the Life Safety Code at the time of original construction, does not permit the building a ‘pass’ on meeting new requirements that apply to existing conditions.


Strange Observations – Wall Mounted Signs

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen while consulting at hospitals…

The discharge door for a stairwell opened out onto the 1st floor corridor, where egress was just down the corridor. (This is permitted by section 7.7.2 of the 2012 LSC, provided they met all of the other requirements).

As the picture indicates, when the stairwell door is fully opened, it sticks out into the corridor about half the width of the door. This can cause a momentary obstruction to people in the corridor when the door is open.

The facilities department thought it would be a good idea to warn people that the door may be a problem when open and created this sign on a swivel that warns people. To be sure, the sign does swing if anyone came into contact with it, but when it is in its normal position, it projected more than 4-inches into the corridor.

Even though the intentions for the sign were good, it does violate the maximum 4-inch corridor projection rule adopted by CMS, and therefore it was written up.

Strange Observations – Part 8

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen when consulting at hospitals…

Did you notice they did not say ‘cigarette butts’? I guess that was to be politically correct. Don’t want to offend anyone.

Strange Observations – Part 7

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen when consulting at hospitals…

Okay… who is this sign for? If I touch the wires, then I’m dead… right?

How do you fine a dead man?

Stairwell Signage

Q: I am looking for a code reference which specifies the installation height for stairwell signage. It appears that NFPA 101 indicates 5 feet above the stairwell landing but does not indicate whether it is to the top or bottom of the sign. Can you provide guidance?

A: If you are referring to the wall-mounted stair identification signs mounted within the enclosure on each landing in stairs serving five or more stories, then the mounting height is ‘approximately’ 5 feet above the floor landing, according to of the 2000 Life Safety Code. The NFPA 101 Handbook has a picture showing the 5 foot measurement is between the bottom of the sign and the floor. Since the official code language says ‘approximate’, then the 5 foot distance can be interpreted to be to the top, the center or the bottom of the sign. You should be safe with any of those measurements.

Soiled Utility Room Door Signage

Q: Are you aware of any door signage requirements for soiled utility rooms and/or trash rooms?

A: There is no Life Safety Code requirement for signs on a soiled utility room door or a trash collection room door, unless the door could somehow be confused with an exit door. Then a ‘NO EXIT’ sign will have to be posted on the door, with the word ‘NO’ 2 inches tall, and the word ‘EXIT’ 1 inch tall, and the word ‘NO’ has to be on top of the word ‘EXIT’. If the doors to the soiled utility room or the trash collection room are fire-rated doors, then the sign must be no larger than 5% of the overall surface area of the door, and can only be attached to the door with adhesives. Nails and screws are not permitted to attach a sign to a fire rated door. Perhaps you may be thinking of a state regulation whereby every door must have a number or name assigned to it. I have seen this regulation in many states. However, I am not aware of any CMS, Joint Commission, HFAP or DNV requirement for signs on these doors.

Temporary Signs on Fire Doors

Q: Are hand-made temporary directional signs permitted to be taped to fire doors? We had a surveyor tell us that nothing can be taped to a fire door.

A: Yes, temporary signs are permitted to be taped to a fire door, but they are limited in size. NFPA 80, Standard for Fire Doors and Fire Windows, 1999 edition, section 1-3.5, says informational signs installed on the surface of fire doors are permitted. The total area of the attached signs is not to exceed 5 percent of the area of the face of the fire door to which they are attached. Signs are required to be attached to fire doors using an adhesive. Mechanical attachments such as screws or nails are not permitted. Signs are not to be installed on glazing material in fire doors, and signs are not to be installed on the surface of fire doors so as to impair or otherwise interfere with the proper operation of the fire door. With a fire door size of 80” x 32” (approximate guess of the fire door in question), a single 8½ x 11 sheet of paper is well below the 5 percent maximum which the code permits. You state that the paper sign was observed to be attached to the door with adhesive, so it appears it meets the requirements for signage on fire doors. Sounds like a case for an appeal or clarification.     

Stairwell Signage

In Case of Fire Web 2If you were a bit surprised by the wording of the sign to the left… You’re not alone. I had to do a double-take when I first saw it, as it certainly got my attention.

The sign is a marketing strategy by the Stairwell Signage Solutions company in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and is re-printed here with permission. The sign is an ominous warning to facility managers that their existing stairwell signage may not be compliant with the new 2012 Life Safety Code.

When the new 2012 LSC is adopted facilities will have to comply with the following requirements, found in section


  • New enclosed stairwells serving three or more stories and existing enclosed stairwells serving five or more stories must have stairwell identification signs (previously, the 2000 LSC only required stairwells serving five or more stories to have stairwell identification signs);
  • The stairwell must be provided with identification signs inside the enclosure at each floor landing;
  • The signage must indicate the floor level;
  • The signage must indicate the terminus of the top and the bottom of the stairwell;
  • The signage must indicate the stairwell name (identification);
  • The signage must indicate the floor level of, and the direction to, the exit discharge;
  • The signage must be located inside the enclosure approximately 60 inches above the floor landing in a position that is visible when the door is open or closed;
  • The signage must be continuously illuminated with emergency power back-up capability (this was not previously required);
  • The floor level designation must be tactile in accordance with ICC/ANSI A117.1 (this was not previously required);
  • The signage must be painted or stenciled on the wall or on a separate sign securely attached to the wall (this was not previously required);
  • The name of the stairwell must be located at the top of the sign in minimum 1 inch tall lettering (this was not previously required);
  • Stairwells that do not provide roof access must read ‘NO ROOF ACCESS’ underneath the name of the stairwell in 1 inch tall lettering (this was not previously required);
  • The floor level number must be located in the middle of the sign in 5 inch tall numbers (this was not previously required);
  • The identification of the lower and upper terminus of the stairwell must be located at the bottom of the sign in 1 inch tall lettering (this was not previously required).

The phrase ‘this was not previously required’ is referring to the 2000 LSC. If you would like to contact Stairwell Signage Solutions, contact Stephen Salzberg, at