Article & Video

What do the metric system and European pictorial Exit Signs have in common?

…Neither will likely be used by the United States although they’re already used by most of the world. In an article by Julia Turner, “The Big Red Word vs. the Little Green Man: The international war over exit signs”, the US is nearly alone in its use of red-lettered Exit signs, just as we’re alone in using miles instead of kilometers. The rest of the world uses the “running man”, a pictorial sign showing a man running through a door – in green – the international color meaning “go”, and in this case GO NOW!

Tuner says, “In most places in the United States, it is safe to assume people speak English…our sign systems have typically communicated in text. Europe, by contrast, developed symbolic road signs…On a continent where you can’t drive more than a few hours before encountering a new language, the pictorial approach made sense.” The red Exit sign was developed in 1911 after a fire in a garment warehouse killed 146 workers because exit doors were bolted shut but also not clearly marked.

Although the US began adopting pictograms on a smaller scale in 1974, the Exit sign remained in text. The current “running man” sign was created by a Japanese designer named Yukio Ota, whose design beat out a very similar design by a Soviet designer. Neither knew the other design was a man running through a door, meaning the rest of the world was already thinking in pictorials.

Turner interviewed a prominent member of the NFPA who says the National Fire Protection Association sees no need to change the red lettered Exit sign used in the United States.  He argues for text-based signs stating that human beings use several cues in reading signs and don’t just rely on words. For example, if a sign is over a door or near an exit, or if the letters are set in a bright red or green background, we can assume it’s an Exit sign, even in a different language.

What if the NFPA were to decide that a mass change to the green sign was necessary for American safety?  A deep-rooted problem could arise – the “running man” sign contradicts every thing we’ve been taught as children: during an emergency, you are to walk, not run, to safety.  You are taught from your first Kindergarten safety lesson to your annual corporate emergency policy training that when the fire alarm goes off, you are to calmly get up and walk to the nearest exit door. Ota says his sign is supposed to encourage people to “walk slowly” but without constant training, that message could get muddled.

Although we may never switch from text to pictogram exclusively, some areas in this country are requiring both signs to be posted. New York City changed its building codes for high rises in 2006 to include the “running man” on all fire doors.

Luckily for Emedco customers, we offer both – the standard, familiar text Exit Sign, and the widely accepted “running man” pictogram sign. It’s my opinion that until the green “running man” is more widely accepted in the United States, you should stick to NFPA’s guidelines and place red-lettered text Exit signs in your facility. But, who knows – maybe labeling your exit doors with the green man will start the trend that gets him racing across our country.

3 topcoats that could save your life – Exit Sign essentials

Exit Signs are a must for every building.  In order to avoid costly OSHA and regulatory fines, all exits must be identified with Signs that have letters at least 4 inches high and are visible from a distance. In addition to these necessities, Emedco offers three topcoats that cover our Exit Signs for added safety in emergency situations.

SuperGlo is the brightest, safest glow material on the market. It is a non-toxic, non-radioactive ultra-safe glow-in-the-dark film.  The film charges in 5 minutes by natural or fluorescent lighting and does not require electricity to glow for over 30 hours.  SuperGlo material is perfect for reducing energy costs and is eco-friendly, non-toxic and non-radioactive, making it safe for any employee to handle.  By adding SuperGlo topcoat to your Exit Sign, it instantly exceeds all international building code standards.

Glo-Mor is our most affordable glow-in-the-dark material.  It adds immediate safety during blackout or smoky conditions and can be seen from across a room.  Glo-Mor topcoat glows for over 30 hours and only needs an hour of exposure to natural or fluorescent light sources. All international building codes are met with the addition of this topcoat which can be added to any Sign.

Both of the topcoats above feature advanced Photoluminescent technology which means the Signs absorb and store light for long-lasting glow-in-the-dark effects.  In the middle of an emergency when evacuation is crucial to the survival of your employees, glow-in-the-dark Exit Signs outperform standard Exit Signs that disappear in dark conditions.

Reflective Exit Signs do not glow-in-the-dark but they are a firefighter-favorite when it comes to searching a dark building with flashlights. Reflective signs light up instantly when struck by a beam of light from a flashlight, making them perfect for pitch-black corridors and basements.  Reflective signs are not a good option for every area of your facility, especially over exit doors, but they are perfect for dark rooms and stairwells that don’t get direct sunlight or constant fluorescent lighting.

It’s important to know your options with Exit & Fire Safety because during an evacuation, seconds count!  Emedco’s SuperGlo, Glo-Mor and Reflective topcoats provide invaluable safety to our Exit Signs without raising your electricity or maintenance costs.  Choose our Signs when updating your Exit & Fire policy.

About the author: Michelle Sears is Emedco’s in-house Exit, Fire & Evacuation expert.  She joined the Emedco family in 2007 after completing her MBA.  Michelle’s additional areas of expertise include Indoor/Outdoor Traffic Control, Shipping & D.O.T., Inventory Organization, Warehouse Safety, and Matting.

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