My company (about 100 people, tech based) moved to a new office building last week. Now that the badge system and magnetic door locks are working, we've realized that in addition to waving our badge (fob) to enter, we have to wave it to exit as well. There is no motion sensor or emergency exit button to unlock the door--we are locked in. There is one emergency exit to the outside that does not require a fob.

I spoke with one of the lock installers yesterday about this and he said they were specifically instructed not to install emergency buttons. I suspect the intent is to watch employees taking breaks.

This is very unsafe in my opinion. Do other offices have this kind of set up? Besides bringing it up to my manager, who should I contact about this?

Edit: We're in the central US.

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    This is probably a violation of fire code, if not OSHA regulations. Call your local fire department & get their take on it.
    – alroc
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 14:16
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    who enforce the fire code? Here in Canada the fire department does and you can file a complain with them and someone will come to check to ensure fire code enforces
    – CleverNode
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 14:33
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    Even if it is technically legal, the regular exit doubling as an emergency exit is definitely safer. In an emergency you shouldn't have to expend energy on remembering where the emergency exit is, unless it is unsafe to use the regular exit.
    – toni
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 16:12
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    Seems like is violation, call fire marshal and ask. We couldn't they put emergency open on it, but make it set off an alarm. So no one would use it take smoke break,. Like see in some government buildings and what not. Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 16:45
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    Voted to reopen as the accepted and highest voted answers to the duplicate question focus on UK regulations whereas this question is US specific.
    – Myles
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 22:46

2 Answers 2


This is something to bring up with management immediately. Maybe the locks disable when the fire alarm is tripped or maybe you are all in a death trap. Check that they have done their due diligence that the layout complies with fire code, then confirm it to your own satisfaction. Your life is not something to risk on not wanting to make waves.

In further research you may want to refer to OHSA 1910.36(b)(1)

Two exit routes. At least two exit routes must be available in a workplace to permit prompt evacuation of employees and other building occupants during an emergency, except as allowed in paragraph (b)(3) of this section. The exit routes must be located as far away as practical from each other so that if one exit route is blocked by fire or smoke, employees can evacuate using the second exit route.


Employees must be able to open an exit route door from the inside at all times without keys, tools, or special knowledge. A device such as a panic bar that locks only from the outside is permitted on exit discharge doors.


Exit route doors must be free of any device or alarm that could restrict emergency use of the exit route if the device or alarm fails.


If a violation exists and management is not willing to rectify it contact your OH&S officer (if the workplace has one), your state labor board, or your municipal fire department and ask for fire code inspection.

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    @JoeStrazzere So all one needs to do in order to rob the place blind is just cut the power? Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 16:45
  • @GalacticCowboy in addition to what JoeStrazzere says you can replace office equipment. You cannot replace dead human beings. (Actually, if you think you can, then I don't want to work for you.)
    – emory
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 16:05
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    @emory I'm not arguing that the doors should be forced to stay closed in an emergency, and I'm not sure where you get that? My point is that there is a false dilemma between safety and security that is introduced by systems like this, not resolved by them. A simple physical latch gives you both safety and security - easy to open in an emergency, strong security from intruders. These new systems value one at the expense of the other. Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 17:02
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    @GalacticCowboy That is what office insurance is there for. Imagine operating a simple physical latch with 50 bodies rammed up against you, in smoke, in the dark, and with the real threat of death looming over you.
    – Aron
    Commented May 24, 2016 at 5:24
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    The usual push-bar thing that is standard on Emergency doors that are locked to the outside is such that if you were pressed against it, it would spring open. Properly made doors cannot fail under these circumstances, they work by the laws of Physics, even with panicked people pushing on them (and each other). There is no reason why this sort of door should not be used. It is ubiquitous already, and can't be opened from outside.
    – user37746
    Commented Jun 30, 2016 at 3:07

Myles is correct that you should raise this immediately. Convenience would be one thing but what you describe is a dangerously unsafe office. When you bring this to management one key thing to keep in mind in such discussions is to avoid laying blame and make it about "us versus them" Don't say "I'll report this to the fire marshall" but say "I fear this would be a violation of the OHSA regulations."

As an example script:

Hey X, a couple of us (or just "I") noticed after the access control system came online that we also need our fobs to leave the building/office. While this is not only inconvenient, we're worried that this might be a serious safety issue in case of a fire or other emergency or if the system breaks down1.

I looked into the building regulations that apply to office and according to OHSA we need at least two unlocked emergency exits. Aside from the safety issue we could also be at serious risks of being fined or shut down if we get an inspection of our new premises.

Keep in mind that this is a conversation you should have in person so you see how your manager reacts. Your take-away from this should be that the system will be immediately deactivated for exits, or at the very least the opening of at least one additional emergency exit, possibly more depending on the size and layout of your building. If that does not happen or if you catch even a hint of resistance from your manager on this, I'd suggest contacting the relevant safety agency for your area immediately. If you have a competent HR department who aren't in the loop on the renovations, you could contact them first as they should realise quickly how dangerous this situation is from both a safety and a legal perspective.

I'm normally not a fan of actually taking (semi-) legal action, but your health and safety should not be compromised at work. A newly renovated building is already at a higher short-term risk, before you add in ethically questionably construction companies.

1 Note that as far as I know any electrically secured access control system is required to fail-open. This shouldn't be an issue but if the security guys aren't even following basic OHSA guidelines then I wouldn't be surprised if they're creating actual death traps.

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    While such systems are required to fail open, and are often linked to the fire alarm making them open, I wouldn't recommend trusting them even in the absence of dodgy management requirements. Local emergency exit buttons force unlocking by cutting power to the lock unit (which will fail open by design and is much harder to misconfigure than the control system)
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 15:33
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    It's sad that you have to say "When you bring this to management one key thing to keep in mind in such discussions is to avoid laying blame ... ". You can be sure that in case of a fire the blame will be laid on everyone who didn't tell management.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Feb 4, 2016 at 17:25

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