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Testing emergency lighting can be laborious. So let it test itself

Making sure emergency lighting works properly is vital. But it can be vary labour intensive

Emergency lighting is critical to safety. Because of that, it’s well understood and carefully regulated, with well-prescribed procedures, accredited products and clearly defined boundaries.

Or is it?

It would be nice to think that after specifiers and installers have followed the standards and provided good, legally compliant emergency lighting installations, that the lights would then be tested and maintained to ensure they keep operating correctly.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant proportion of people are less than scrupulous about testing and maintaining emergency lighting installations”

But anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant proportion of people are less than scrupulous about testing and maintaining emergency lighting installations. Why is this?

Well, first of all, the standard three-hour test is rather laborious. OK, so it’s pretty simple to do, but conducting it for the full time required is labour intensive.

Secondly, the requirements on emergency lighting have changed over the past decade or so, and some of them are ambiguous. A lot of people are no doubt confused, and there are loopholes that can be too easily exploited.

Lastly, the penalties and the financial and reputational risks for not having proper emergency lighting, are not always sufficient to spur people to action.

The European Standard EN 50172 (adopted in the UK as BS EN 5266-8) requires that emergency lighting is checked on a regular basis, maintained according to manufacturer’s recommendations, and that the results of these checks are reported to the person responsible for the building. Any repairs or remedial work must be carried out within a reasonable time and all changes must be recorded.


Why test emergency lighting?

At its simplest, an emergency lighting system needs to operate in the event of a power failure so people can get out of the building safely. But, how many buildings fail this most basic of criteria, leading to risk of injury or death because people can’t see their way out?

Like any equipment that is poorly maintained, emergency lighting will eventually stop working as intended. If you ‘fit and forget’, then sooner or later either a lamp or battery will fail. And without regular testing and maintenance, the occupants of the building may not be aware that they could be left in the dark in an emergency.

Of course, the vast majority of building owners and occupants are responsible people and accept the need for testing. But how can you make sure that testing is carried out properly?


Testing requirements

Most countries require a regime of testing of every emergency luminaire in an installation. There may be daily, weekly, monthly and annual requirements, with regular tests of basic function, and less frequent tests for the full rated duration of the installation (typically three hours).

In larger buildings, manual testing can start to feel like painting the Forth Bridge – a never-ending cycle”

Testing can be manual or automatic. To carry out the tests manually often requires several experienced technicians or trained staff. In larger buildings this can start to feel like painting the Forth Bridge – a never-ending cycle of checking. It’s labour-intensive, costly, difficult to manage and disruptive to the functioning of the building – think about the consequences in a hospital or school. There is also the element of human error – regardless of how systematic the process might be, mistakes do get made.

Automatic testing is a tempting alternative. It provides a reliable method of regularly checking that the emergency luminaire’s battery is connected and receiving charge, that the lamp will strike correctly when required and that the battery capacity is sufficient to run the lamp for the rated duration period. All this is done with minimal disruption.

As well as providing confidence that emergency lighting is adequately tested to comply with BS EN 5266-8/EN 50172 and all local regulations, automatic testing of emergency lighting can be shown to be more cost effective than manual testing for larger installations. The investment in the equipment is greater, but this is offset by the reduction of installation of manual testing devices and the savings on labour.

There are all sorts of automatic testing systems out there. The simplest is the standalone kind, whereby LED indicators on the luminaires tell you the results of automatic tests. This only works for self-contained luminaires with their own emergency batteries – not for systems that use a central battery or generator.

When using standalone testing, it is important that adjacent luminaires in an installation do not test at the same time, which would leave an area without emergency lighting cover while the batteries are recharging. Therefore, all emergency luminaires that use standalone automatic testing need to find a way around this problem – such as delaying the testing of alternate luminaires.


Systems that report faults can be invaluable to maintenance engineers, telling them which luminaires are faulty and the nature of the fault, so they can respond with replacement components”

Automatic testing equipment

The results of tests carried out by standalone automatic test emergency lighting still need to be recorded and entered into a logbook. But the person recording this information does not need to put luminaires into test mode and wait to see whether the rated discharge duration is achieved, nor do they need to be electrically qualified. To avoid having to record test results by hand, there are a range of automatic test emergency lighting systems which connect emergency luminaires to a control panel where the results are collected centrally.

More advanced systems allow the programming of tests from a control panel or via a connection to a computer on which a visual representation of the installation can be displayed, showing luminaires in test, and those exhibiting faults.

Such systems can be invaluable to maintenance engineers, telling them which luminaires are faulty and the nature of the faults, so they can respond with replacement components. A graphical layout of the premises can be brought up to show exactly where the faulty fittings are.

Beyond computer-based emergency lighting test systems, fully featured systems that can be monitored and controlled via an intranet or internet connection are also available, using proven technology.

Manufacturers provide a variety of automatic testing systems and a payback period of between two and four years can be achieved. Beyond the payback period very substantial savings for facilities managers can be shown, compared to manual test or standalone automatic test regimes.


The case for automatic testing

The case for using automatic testing has been strengthened by reference in BS EN 5266-8/EN 50172. Because of the importance attached to the correct functioning of safety equipment such as emergency lighting, the standard emphasises the need for the system to be correctly tested at a safe time, and without putting people in the premises at risk if a mains failure occurs following a test.

Bernard Pratley is technical manager at ICEL, the UK’s Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting

It also promotes the use of automatic test systems to BS EN 62034, which specifies the performance and safety requirements for products and components incorporated into automatic test systems.

If you’re in doubt about the value and importance of automatic testing, remember that manual testing isn’t perfect either. Even with the best of intentions, it’s difficult to make sure that manual testing will be performed consistently and efficiently, and that records will be properly maintained

Installing an automatic emergency lighting testing system that conforms to BS EN 62034 is definitely worth considering.


ICEL is the UK’s Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting.

Head to for a list of members who will be pleased to give you further advice.