Emergency, Feature

Emergency lighting: 10 things to get you out of trouble

It’s too easy to get sucked into seeing emergency lighting as a tick-box exercise, but there are some real decisions that need to be taken if your lighting system is to pass muster:

1 How long should the emergency lighting last?

The regulations call for a one-hour minimum provision for escape lighting, though the use of the building may determine how long emergency lighting should be available for. For instance, places of entertainment, buildings where people are sleeping and those with more than 10 floors are all required to have a three-hour provision. But it’s not always just about evacuation; sometimes it’s about re-occupation once an emergency is declared over, but power may not have been restored. Does your system allow you to get back into business?

2 Does your system actually work?

Periodic testing of an emergency lighting system is mandatory, as described in the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997, but many smaller installations are rarely given a second thought provided the indicator light is still glowing. Codes of Practice provide guidance on how and when testing should take place, and what you should do about publishing the results!

3 How big is your running man?

Size does matter. By definition, signage is there to be seen and, occasionally, to be seen at times of stress and confusion. The format and the size for signs is provided by the Regulations (BS 5266:2011 Section 5. (Safety Signs). Signs need to be easily visible, so the background environment is important as well as the sign itself. And they should be kept clean!

4 Should it be maintained or non-maintained?

If your emergency lighting system uses a central battery or generator this probably won’t apply to you, but most self-contained luminaires come in either a maintained (operates at all material times) or a non-maintained (only operates when mains power has failed) version, so know which you need. There are situations when you won’t have a choice because the local fire authority will tell you what’s needed. Requiring a maintained emergency lighting provision in a restaurant becomes an aesthetic judgement as well as a technical decision; there can’t be an excuse for a fully-illuminated emergency bulkhead in the middle of a restaurant ceiling.

5 Are your lights in the right place?

Locations for emergency lighting are described in the regulations. As well as providing specified illuminance levels along escape routes, an emergency lighting system also has to provide higher levels of illumination at specific points: alarm points, locations of fire-fighting equipment, first aid point, high risk areas and so on. But it’s important to remember that things sometimes move around a building. Is your fire-fighting equipment still in the place where the emergency lighting was designed to illuminate it?

6 What happens when people leave your building?

There has been a recent incident in the UK when a city centre lost its entire electrical supply for around an hour and a half, and there’s a suspicion that we may see more of these occurrences in the future. Witnesses talked about being plunged into a complete black-out. Emergency lighting systems have to be provided with a final exit luminaire that is located above the doorway that people use to leave the building, though we at Lux believe this provision could do with reviewing and being strengthened.

7 Does one size fit all?

It’s not necessarily the case that the same level of emergency provision be provided throughout a building. Before an emergency system is designed, it’s necessary to produce a risk assessment that reviews the way that a building is used and highlights any areas where a different lighting treatment is necessary. An obvious example of this would be a restaurant and its kitchen; diners may risk little more than a trip hazard as they leave their meals, but the staff in the kitchen will be negotiating hot surfaces, cooking fats, sharp tools and so on.

8 Can you get away with using uplighting?

There are situations where it may be difficult to install a separate emergency lighting system and use is made of the general lighting installation. What happens if the space is uplit? The regulations permit calculations for illuminance levels based only on the reflection values of the primary (ceiling) surface. No further inter-reflections can be taken into consideration. Put that together with the likely reduced output from the light source and that settles the debate. Also, many uplighting schemes rely on high-output high-pressure discharge lamps (metal halide, for example) that may switch off as the power fails and will not re-ignite for some considerable number of minutes into the emergency event.

9 Who can be a responsible or competent person?

Many national regulations require a ‘competent’ or ‘responsible’ person to oversee emergency lighting. The UK Health and Safety Executive, for instance, describes a competent person as someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to perform their tasks properly. The level of competence required will depend on the complexity of the situation and the particular help you need.

10  How do you light for people with visual impairments?

It may not always be about lighting. It may be necessary to include an audio system to enable people to exit a building safely. Other areas, in particular those designated places of refuge where people with disabilities can muster, will require higher levels of illuminance and will probably also require a responsible person in attendance during an emergency.


The Guides and Standards:

These are some of the core documents that provide performance guidance for the design of emergency lighting systems. There are accompanying documents that deal with specific aspects such as signage, special area requirements, luminaire design, etc.

In the UK:

The introduction of these Regulations created a single fire safety legislative control for all workplaces and non-domestic premises in England and wales. Similar regulations apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

There are also additional regulations and legislation, such as The Safety Signs Directive and The Workplace Directive that sit alongside the Fire Regulations.

BS 5266-1 is the Code of Practice that provides the base standard for emergency lighting and is usually viewed by authorities as the yardstick against which an emergency lighting system is evaluated.

There are nine parts to the Standard, each part dealing with a specific area of concern within an overall emergency lighting strategy; BS5266-7 looks at requirements for escape routes and exit signs, for example.

Developed by the Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting to provide key guidelines to quality, reliability and performance of emergency lighting equipment.

  •          There may be local ordinances that also need to be taken into account.


UK / EU Standards:

In the UK this standard is known as BE EN50172:2004,BS 5266-8:2004. It sets out the requirements for emergency lighting in buildings that are open to the public and it is concerned with the illumination of escape routes and safety signage. It also provides practical guidance on stand-by lighting used as emergency escape lighting.


In the USA:

Although state and local building codes may vary, most are based on the National Electrical Code NFPA70, Article 700 and on The Life Safety Code NFPA101.

OSHA is the Federal Agency responsible for workplace safety rules and regulations and provides emergency lighting standards to ensure safe evacuation of a facility in the event of in interruption to the normal lighting system. The Federal requirements are outlined primarily in 29CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) section 1910.


In Australia:

The BCA has been given the status of building regulation by all States and Territories within Australia. Requirements for emergency lighting are set out in Section E, Part E4.

  • AS/NZS 2293 Emergency Lighting for Buildings

There are three parts to the document:
Part I of this standard series relates to installation.
Part 2 deals with maintenance.
Part 3 covers the performance of luminaires.

  • The Emergency Lighting Conference will return to the Escape Zone at LuxLive 2018 this November 14th & 15th. As well as offering a run through of current obligations to ensure compliance with emergency lighting standards, the conference will also examine the common pitfalls that can often put you in breach of emergency lighting and fire regulations. You can find out more and register to attend by clicking here.





Picture: Eaton Lighting