We’ve all seen blocked exits before – especially in restaurants.  It’s not uncommon to see a table placed in front of a marked exit, or an egress corridor used for storage.  I was a little surprised to see this photo, sent to me by James Hanna of Dave’s Lock & Key, because this is a very well-known fast-food restaurant, and the obstructions are fixed stools.

James asked about the required egress width between the wall and the stools.  The required width varies depending on the use group/occupancy classification and the occupant load.  In the International Building Code (IBC), the egress width of the various components of a means of egress (corridors, stairs, doors, etc.) is addressed in Chapter 10.

I would consider the egress component in the photo to be an aisle, defined by the IBC as: An unenclosed exit access component that defines and provides a path of egress travel.  The spaces between tables would be aisle accessways: That portion of an exit access that leads to an aisle.

In the 2018 edition of the IBC, aisles and aisle accessways are covered in Section 1018.  Generally speaking, there are two dimensions to look at – the minimum egress width, and the width needed to accommodate the required egress capacity.  More occupants = more required egress width.  For most use groups, the IBC requires the aisle width to be the same as the width required for corridors.  Table 1020.2 shows the minimum corridor widths for various locations.

When the aisle is in an assembly occupancy, like the one shown in the photo, there are other factors to consider when calculating the aisle width.  We don’t know the occupant load of the restaurant in the photo, but I would assume that it is 50 people or more because of the second exit.  If the occupant load is less than 50 people, the minimum width of the aisle is 36 inches and the restaurant would be a business occupancy.  For a larger occupant load, the required aisle width would increase.

Based on the position of the stools in relation to the 3-foot-wide door and the +/- 4 inches beside it, my guess is that the aisle width is not 36 inches, let alone wide enough to serve a larger occupant load.  What do you think?

For future reference, here’s where the IBC says that reducing the egress width with obstructions is not allowed.  The projections referenced in this paragraph typically include doors, handrails, trim and decorative features.

1003.6 Means of egress continuity. The path of egress travel along a means of egress shall not be interrupted by a building element other than a means of egress component as specified in this chapter. Obstructions shall not be placed in the minimum width or required capacity of a means of egress component except projections permitted by this chapter. The minimum width or required capacity of a
means of egress system shall not be diminished along the path of egress travel.

The door in the photo actually has another code issue – does anyone see what it is?

To learn how to calculate the egress width of door openings, refer to this Decoded article.

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