Occupancy load refers to the number of people permitted in a building at one time based on the building’s floor space and function. Each room or space used for an assembly occupancy is required to display the approved occupant load on a sign, which is sometimes called maximum occupancy sign, so that this information is publicly available. To exceed occupancy load or fail to post occupancy load signs in the required places can result in fines and is a serious safety hazard.
Emergencies can require the immediate evacuation of a building, particularly in the event of a fire. Any delay in evacuation can be tragic, as was the case in the 2003 Station Night Club fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, which killed 100 people in just over five minutes. The fire was so lethal because evacuation was sluggish, partly due to the fact that the actual number of people present was much higher than the building’s occupancy load.
Every room or space that is an assembly occupancy shall have the occupant load of the room or space posted in a conspicuous place, near the main exit or exit access doorway from the room or space. The sign shall not be obstructed by doors, curtains, poster board stands, furniture, room dividers, or similar items. The sign shall be posted not more than 60 inches nor less than 48 inches above the floor.
The words “Maximum Occupancy XXX” or “Occupancy Is Limited To XXX” are required on the sign. Signs shall [have a] minimum of 1-inch block letters and numbers on a contrasting background so as to be readily visible. Other text is allowable in smaller lettering and shall be a minimum of 3/8- inch block lettering. A sign with changeable numbers is not permitted.
CALCULATION OF OCCUPANCY LOAD
The occupancy load must be determined or approved by the Building Official or Fire Official. Occupancy load is calculated by dividing the area of a room by its prescribed unit of area per person. The amount of space required per person varies based on the function of the room, which is usually determined by the building’s designer.
In summary, occupancy load must be posted in many commercial buildings on signs that are clearly visible and legible.