Emergency, Feature

Emergency lighting conversions: be safe, not sorry

If office luminaires don't already have an emergency function, you can get them converted to include it. But that means messing about with the design of the fitting - so make sure it gets done properly

In mainland Europe, central battery systems and dedicated luminaires are the norm for emergency lighting. In the UK, it’s more common to convert standard mains luminaires, giving the specifier a number of design advantages. But this method does have a downside. Poorly designed, constructed and tested conversions can cause installation problems and put safety at risk. Unfortunately, the desire for cost-cutting combined with badly conceived and or open specifications, leads to conversions that ignore the complexity of the host luminaire, and in some cases are downright dangerous.

How to prevent problems
To counter problems with bad emergency conversions, the UK’s Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting (ICEL) has created a registration scheme called ICEL 1004. This ensures that the converter produces compliant luminaires in line with best practice and tests them all. ICEL document 1004:2013 sets out the requirements for the conversion of luminaires to emergency operation and provides a clear understanding of the legal obligations for the converter and the user. The latest edition of ICEL 1004:2013 has been updated to include the emergency conversion of LED luminaires.

Users have become more familiar with ICEL’s scheme over time, but bad conversions still happen, especially since LED luminaires have become mainstream. It is important to continually revisit the subject, so that converters understand the importance of compliance when manufacturing these life-saving products. ICEL’s members are fully behind ICEL 1004:2013 – it’s now up to the rest of the industry, including contractors and conversion houses, to catch up.

In this respect it is vital that emergency lighting products are not treated as just another lighting fixture. They play a vital role in ensuring public safety in the event of a complete mains failure, fire or other emergency, and they need to be given the same priority as other life-saving measures. Self-contained conversions carried out to the specification of ICEL 1004:2013 will ensure safety and performance.

Making a conversion
At the very least, poorly performing conversions will mean repeated visits to site by the electrical contractor. At worst, death or injury could occur due to emergency lighting failure – and if a badly converted emergency fitting is involved, the specifier or installer could find themselves in court.

If a luminaire bearing a CE mark is altered, then the marking becomes invalid and it is the converter’s responsibility to ensure future CE compliance”

In most cases the installer will leave the conversion to the manufacturer or a third-party conversion house, but they’re still responsible for making sure the work has been carried out right. Of the hundreds of conversion shops in the UK only a handful have signed up to the ICEL 1004:2013 code of practice. This is not to say they are doing a bad job, it’s just that they need auditing.

The conversion of mains luminaires to emergency is a very skilled activity that must be carried out correctly. If it isn’t, then the chances are the luminaire will fail in both mains and emergency. For example, if the battery overheats due to the light source being too close, the converted luminaire will no longer function in emergency mode. If the converter does not apply the correct testing procedure then the possibility of overheating can never be spotted as a potential issue.

Components used in the conversion of mains luminaires to emergency must comply with BS/EN/IEC safety and performance requirements (see box).

An important point to bear in mind is that if a luminaire bearing the CE mark (showing compliance with all the relevant European regulations) is altered in any way, then the marking becomes invalid and it is the converter’s responsibility to ensure future CE compliance. This means that all luminaires must be tested after they’re converted, a new CE mark applied and documentation produced to support it. This can be carried out by the converter or by a third-party test house. In reality it doesn’t always happen, so many converted luminaires carry a CE mark that is meaningless.

The majority of conversion houses do not do anything to fulfil the CE requirement. When the luminaire arrives from the OEM, it should meet the essential requirements of the relevant European directives, including the Low-Voltage Directive and the Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) Directive. The conversion house will change the wiring, move components, introduce new parts as necessary, but without a correct testing procedure to ensure thermal compliance, EMC and electrical safety, they cannot be sure the luminaire conforms to the standards. These regulations aren’t there to add yet more bureaucracy, they’re there to protect lives.

Testing for potential trouble
There are many ways a conversion can affect the performance of a lighting product, and it’s only by testing that any potential problems can be identified. For example, if the emergency control module added to the luminaire is not compatible with the control gear, problems are inevitable. Compatibility is even more relevant today in the world of LED – an incorrect specification can easily lead to the light source, module or battery failing early, all of which are costly to repair and potentially dangerous.

Similarly, emergency lighting products need to use fire-retardant components and the enclosure must comply with BS/EN 60598-2-22 and a glow wire test of 8500°C (unless components are mechanically secured and will not come into contact with a flammable surface). Many standard mains luminaires do not meet this requirement as the rules are different for non-emergency products. Prismatic diffusers, for instance, won’t pass the 8500°C glow wire test.

Today, integral emergency conversions are not as straightforward as in the past. With the introduction of multiple lamp fixtures and more compact light sources such as LED, it is inevitable that smaller lighting chambers will become too hot for batteries and chargers. Just a couple of degrees above designed temperature limits can have a devastating effect on emergency modules and batteries.

With the arrival of more compact T5 and LED fittings, space becomes an important commodity. The design evolution of emergency inverters and batteries has not seen a dramatic decrease in their size. This invariably means that a conversion is not just a case of shoe-horning the emergency components into the luminaire’s housing. It may well be necessary to rearrange the existing components on a newly manufactured control gear chassis or use a remote enclosure.

As soon as you start to move the components around there is greater potential for electrical problems. This is of particular concern when LED drivers or high frequency electronic ballasts, both fixed and variable outputs, are being used because the cable connections between the driver, ballast and lamp act very much like aerials which may cause radio interference. If any electromagnetic compatibility conflicts arise, the luminaire will no longer conform to the EMC Directive.

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

Get it right
Self-contained conversions are an extremely neat solution, which takes away the need to install an additional luminaire in the ceiling for the sole purpose of providing emergency lighting. It makes for more aesthetically pleasing installations, reduces wiring costs and ensures a more robust and detailed warranty for the user.

But it’s vitally important to make sure that the re-engineering of luminaires for emergency use is taken seriously and carried out to the required standards. Safety in our public spaces is paramount, and we must not tolerate poorly conceived or badly manufactured emergency lighting conversions.

The ICEL 1004:2013 document contains clear guidelines on how to get it right.

A special Lux conference on emergency lighting is taking place on  Thursday 25 February 2016 at the Cavendish Conference Centre in London. Entry is free to specifiers including facility managers, consulting engineers, estate managers, energy managers and others responsible to emergency lighting installations and their specification. Register for your free place and view the full programme HERE.


ICEL is the UK’s Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting. Download ICEL 1004:2013 for free from www.icel.co.uk. For more information contact [email protected]