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Panic Bars: Why Your Business Needs Them

There are specialized exit devices used in public and commercial buildings that you have likely seen and used before, even if you are not sure of their name. These devices are known as panic bars. Even if you were not aware of their name until now, it is likely that you have used a panic bar at some point to exit a building. Even though these handles seem simple enough, they are actually highly specialized devices that help prevent disasters and assist in the quick evacuation of a given space.

The History Behind Panic Bars

Prior to the early 1900s, there were few, if any, building safety provisions and codes in effect. Without mandates to regulate occupancy, exit routes, the number of exit ways, and other safety regulations, disaster inevitably struck from time-to-time. We often take for granted how building regulations and safety codes serve to keep us safe while in a public space. Prior to the laws we have now and the implementation of panic bars, there were three unfortunate instances that ultimately led to the invention of panic bars and the regulations and laws surrounding building safety codes.

The first catastrophic event occurred in Sunderland, England in 1883. The event is famously known as the Victoria Hall Stampede. At the time of the incident, in a large concert hall, a performance was being given to nearly 1,100 students. Following the end of the performers, the children were told that the first of them to reach the back entrance of the concert hall would receive a prize. As you can imagine, all 1,100 children ran as fast as they could towards the back door. This immediately resulted in chaos in and of itself, but to make matters worse, the singular door the children reached would only open inwards a few feet. This only left room for one child to pass through the doorway at a time. Ultimately, 183 children perished that day and the incident led to building requirements for the number of exits needed in the building, in addition to doors and devices that prevent build-up during evacuations.

The second incident was known as the Iroquois Theatre Fire and occurred in 1903 in Chicago, Illinois. This particular fire remains to this day the deadliest single-building fire ever experienced in the United States. The disaster began with an extremely overcrowded theatre during a matinee performance. This was the first main problem. With multiple balconies, the theater was not just filled to capacity, but well above it on that fateful day. When the theater’s stage curtain suddenly caught fire, patrons rushed to flee the space. Unfortunately, with a lack of exits and overcrowding that occurred, 602 people lost their lives that day after failing to safely evacuate.

The last and final incident that led to the complete overhaul of building safety regulations also occurred in the United States. Just a few short years after the Iroquois Theatre fire in 1908, the Collinwood School fire claimed the lives of 172 students, two teachers, and one rescue workers. Similar to the other incidents that occurred, the Collinwood School fire was a result of lack of exits, overcrowding, and poor safety standards. When one of the only two exits in the school was blocked during the duration of the fire, some of the students were unable to exit in time. This jarring incident left the community and nation shaken to the point that building safety standards, provisions, and laws were finally put into motion.

Do Not Ever Skip Panic Bar Installations

Panic bars were invented during the height of these incidents as a way to combat issues experienced during building evacuations. Panic bars allow doors to swing open fully and quickly without delay. In an emergency, this is critical. Panic bars make it so that doors are less likely to jam or lock up. Ultimately, they have saved countless lives by assisting in the quick and immediate evacuation of a given building or commercial space.

If you are a business owner, you need to make sure that you follow the necessary laws surrounding panic bars. Most businesses will need to have panic bars installed on exit doors, though some smaller businesses may not need them. Typically, if you own a business that has a 50-person occupancy at one time or more, than panic bars will be needed on exit and emergency doors. However, this provision is merely a standard and occupancy laws in your area may differ slightly.

It is also worth mentioning that panic bars may be necessary for your business building, regardless of the occupancy. Panic bars are required if buildings operate certain kinds of machinery or handle toxic or hazardous substances. It is important to consider not just occupancy, but the kind of materials that are handled in your business. Any type of caustic or chemical handling will automatically make a building more prone to fires and other emergencies. Panic bars, in these instances, will likely be necessary, no matter how many individuals are inside at any given time.

If you need panic bars installed for your business building, contact a local locksmith. You will want you panic bars professionally installed by an expert that knows what they are doing, as well as someone who is familiar with local business safety laws.