Most people associate the colour green with "go", and the colour red with "stop". The red EXIT or SORTIE signs, while familiar, could be confusing during an emergency when people may not be thinking clearly. The red exit signs are gradually being replaced by a green sign. This new sign shows a green man in silhouette fleeing towards a door, symbolizing an egress path and exit to safety.
The ISO symbol for the Running Man was first used in Japan in the 1979 and grew in use around the world. It's considered a universal symbol that is independent of language, and is becoming an internationally and common known symbol of communicating safe passage.
Existing buildings generally do not need to upgrade existing red exit signs until the space undergoes a major renovation, or a change in occupancy classification.
In popular tourist areas like Vancouver and Calgary, these international exit signs make a lot of sense as visitors may not be fluent in English or French. During an emergency, the symbol can easily be recognized as a path towards a safe exit.
The change in this life safety system was mandated by the National Building Code in 2010 and affects new buildings, as well as existing buildings undergoing major renovation. For existing buildings, the need to upgrade exit signs may or may not be mandatory by the authority having jurisdiction, so this needs to be confirmed with the local building inspector. The intent is to keep exit signs consistent within a space to prevent creating confusion, especially during an emergency.
Exit signs must continue to provide illumination towards safe passage even when the power goes out. There are two methods to achieve this.
As more construction and reconstruction projects take place, the public is going to see more of the green running man exit signs. This is a gradual change that is making safety signage truly an international symbol. Green means go!