Lighting the Way – Emergency Lighting Requirements

What you need to know about emergency lighting

Why is emergency lighting necessary?

As the responsible person it is your legal obligation to ensure that adequate emergency lighting is installed across all the escape routes and exits from every area of the building with a minimum backup duration of between 1 and 3 hours. Emergency lighting is essential to light escapes routes for emergency evacuations when normal mains-powered lighting fails.

Eden Bulkhead Emergency Lighting
LED Emergency Lighting Bulkhead – Eden

There are different types of emergency lights, some function as a normal light and others function only as an emergency light source. As a starting point you should know what type of emergency light you want to install for example; do you want a maintained emergency light (stays on constantly) or a non-maintained emergency light (illuminates only in the event of a mains power failure)?

Where to install emergency lights and signs

When deciding where to install emergency lights, take into account any hazards that there may be along the evacuation route, such as corners, stairways or uneven flooring. You must also ensure that fire alarm call points and equipment used for firefighting, such as extinguishers or fire blankets, are adequately illuminated to be easily seen or located. Some areas will require continued operation (e.g. a chemical processing room, operation theatre etc); higher continued lighting requirements must be considered in these areas.

Jalite photoluminescent fire exit signs
Jalite photoluminescent fire exit signs

A sub-category of emergency lighting is fire exit signs, which are green ‘running man’ signs with arrows that guide people towards the nearest exits. These are either internally lit in the same fashion as space emergency lighting or, in case sufficient other emergency lights are available, they can be photoluminescent. Such ‘glow-in-the-dark signs store energy from either natural or artificial light and releases this stored energy when the light source is no longer there, emitting a yellow/green glow to illuminate the text on the sign.

You should refer to your fire risk assessment to ensure that you have covered all the essential fire escape routes and addressed any hazards on your site that were highlighted in this assessment. It is a legal requirement to carry out a fire risk assessment and you should refresh this assessment if the activities within your premises change or if significant changes to the layout are made. You can find authoritative guidance in the government's fire risk assessment guides.

Buy emergency lights

Visit our emergency lights and signs section to view our full range of emergency lighting products.

Testing and maintenance

As with all fire safety equipment, regular testing of your emergency lights must be carried out to ensure that it is working correctly. You should test that the lights are triggered when the mains supply is cut, and also that all the lights are illuminated as they should be. This can be done with the use of a fish key.

You will need to test your lighting once a month and ensure that a full discharge test is carried once a year. Log the results as any other fire safety equipment tests in your fire safety logbook.

If you would like to know more about emergency lighting our emergency lighting guides can provide you with useful information.

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Angie Dewick-Eisele

Director

Angie Dewick-Eisele is co-founder of Safelincs Ltd, one of the leading fire safety providers in the UK. Angie was Marketing Manager for many years and as Director is these days responsible for Content Management.

Emergency Lighting – A Guide

Emergency Light - A GuideSafelincs operates a fire safety forum where people’s fire safety questions are answered by professionals. One of the frequently raised topics has been Emergency Lighting. To give you a broader understanding of emergency lighting, this blog compiles the typical queries and answers raised through the forum.

What is emergency lighting?

Emergency lighting is lighting that comes on when there is a mains power failure. Emergency lights are powered by rechargeable backup batteries which are either located inside the emergency light or in a central battery location with connections running to each emergency light. Emergency lighting is a general term and is sub-divided into emergency escape lighting and standby lighting. Standby lighting is used to continue normal work during a powercut and, as it is not a legal requirement, is not covered in this guide.

What is emergency ESCAPE lighting?

Emergency escape lighting comes on automatically when the mains power fails and gives off sufficient illumination to enable occupants and visitors to evacuate the premises safely.

Emergency escape lighting itself is sub-divided again into

  • open area lighting (bulkheads and other emergency lights)
  • escape route lighting (typically illuminated fire exit signs with a running white man on a green background)
  • high risk task area lighting (to allow the shut down of dangerous processes)

Publicly accessible buildings as well as most businesses are required by law to provide emergency escape lighting.

What key types of emergency lights are there?

There are two key types of emergency lighting: maintained and non-maintained.

Maintained emergency lights stay on constantly at all times and stay lit for the minimum emergency duration (usually 3 hours) after a mains failure. Maintained emergency escape lights are used in places of assembly like theatres, cinemas, entertainment halls but also shopping centres and similar venues. They allow the public to familiarise themselves with emergency routes and have the advantage that any failure of the emergency lighting bulbs can be spotted immediately.

A non-maintained emergency light will only light up in the event of a mains power failure and will also stay lit for the minimum emergency duration required. Non-maintained emergency lights are likely to be found in offices, shops and factories.

 

Does all escape route lighting have to be illuminated?

If sufficient open area emergency lighting is in the vicinity of a fire exit, non-illuminated fire exit signs can be sufficient in locations of minor importance. Photo-luminescent  fire exit signs would be preferable in this case, although it has to be ensured that sufficient light is reaching the photo-luminescent sign to ensure it is ‘charged’ at all times.

Considerations

British Standard BS 5266-1: 2011 provides clear guidelines about the design and installation of emergency lighting. It should be remembered that the British Standards specify the best practice for standard situations, however, a higher standard may be required for a particular installation.

The actual degree of illumination should be closely related to the nature of both the premises and its occupants.

Special consideration should be given to homes for the elderly, hospitals, crowded areas such as pubs, discos and supermarkets and to whether or not the premises are residential.

Borrowed lighting may be suitable in small premises (eg small shops) where there is light coming into the building from a dependable outside source, e.g. street lamps and will adequately illuminate escape routes. Alternatively, single ‘stand-alone’ escape lighting units may be sufficient in small premises and these can sometimes be combined with exit or directional signs.

An emergency lighting system should be installed by an electrician who specialises in emergency lighting.
They would need to be conversant with BS 5266-1- 2011 Emergency lighting-Part 1: Code of practice for emergency lighting of premises.

The question of the requirement for emergency lights in schools is a bit of an anomaly.
As a school is only occupied during the hours of daylight, emergency lighting is not therefore required. However, should the school be used out of hours, in the hall for example, then emergency lighting should be installed in the hall and the exit routes from it. The ‘responsible person’ should have the final say on this and might want to consult the local fire officer.

Toilet facilities for use by disabled people and/or any multiple closet facilities without borrowed light should have emergency escape illumination from at least one luminaire. Organisations may have to provide emergency escape lighting in each cubicle if there is no borrowed light.

What are the rules for rented properties?

For residential properties landlords are deemed to be the ‘responsible person’ for all fire safety and emergency lighting.

Single occupancy houses and houses of multiple occupancy up to two storeys high only need conventional lighting, whereas three and four storeys may require emergency escape lighting if the escape route is complex and there is no effective borrowed light.

Bedsit houses of multiple occupation of one to four storeys (with individual cooking facilities within bedsits) require conventional lighting and emergency escape lighting if risk requires such or there is no effective borrowed light. Bedsit houses of multiple occupation of five or six storeys with individual cooking facilities within bedsits require conventional lighting and emergency escape lighting

Two, three or four storey houses converted to self-contained flats require conventional lighting and emergency escape lighting if the fire risk assessment requires it.

Five or six storey house converted to self-contained flats require conventional lighting and emergency escape lighting. Importantly, common escape routes should be well lit.
There are guidelines to help understand the provision required and landlords need to be aware of their responsibilities to carry out a fire risk assessment, and make sure their property has adequate and appropriate fire safety measures in place.

How do you maintain emergency lighting?

Emergency lights have to be tested regularly unless they are self-testing emergency lights.

Emergency lights with internal backup batteries display a small green LED that indicates that the internal battery is being charged. Older models may have a red light. However, you still have to check the function of the emergency light regularly, as the LED only confirms that the unit charges rather than that the battery will last the full period required or that the bulb is in working order. 

All emergency lighting systems must be tested monthly. The test is a short functional test in accordance with BS EN 50172:2004 / BS 5266-8:2004.
The period of simulated failure should be sufficient for the purpose of this test while minimising damage to the system components, e.g. lamps. During this period, all luminaires and signs shall be checked to ensure that they are present, clean and functioning correctly. Emergency lighting key switches are available and allow for the interruption of the power to the emergency lights without affecting the power supply to the normal lighting circuits.

A test for the full duration (usually three hours) of the emergency lights must be carried out once a year. The emergency lights must still be working at the end of this test. The result must be recorded and, if failures are detected, these must be remedied as soon as possible.
Any batteries that do not last three hours should be changed immediately.
Life expectancy will vary depending on the make of the battery – with some makes it is four years, some five years. When the life expectancy date expires the batteries should be changed. It is a good idea that when a battery is changed the date of installation is written on the battery for future reference. Safelincs supply spare batteries.

If the fitting has a fluorescent tube the life will depend on whether the unit is maintained or non-maintained. Safelincs recommends that lamps in maintained bulkheads are changed every six months. If a fluorescent lamp has blackened ends / starting to turn black the tube needs replacing.

The occupier/owner of the premises should appoint a competent person to supervise the testing of the system. This person shall be given sufficient authority to ensure the carrying out of any work necessary to maintain the system in correct operation. Competent can be defined as someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to maintain the system properly. The level of competence required will depend on the complexity of the situation and the particular help that is required.

From a practical point of view, a normal caretaker would be able to use a test key to remove power from emergency lights and ensure that the emergency lights stay on the required period. When it comes to repair of failing emergency lights it would most likely that an electrician would be needed unless the caretaker has sufficient qualifications to replace batteries and lamps.

It is important, though, that all tests are recorded in the fire safety log book.

The longevity of emergency lights is better if lamps are changed before they are fully failing. However, this recommendation probably only applies if an organisation has a contractor for the maintenance of emergency lighting and the costs of a call-out were to be substantial. In such a case pre-emptive maintenance (changing while the light is still working) makes sense.

In the long run LED light are more economical than fluorescent tubes as they save electricity not only when the light is on but even during the trickle charging of the batteries. However, the real saving from LED emergency lights comes from not having to replace the tubes on a half yearly or yearly basis. The LEDs will last a lot longer, hence saving costs for maintenance call-outs and replacement tubes.

Many systems will have fish tail key switches in the power supply leading to suitable groups of emergency lights so that you don’t have to switch off the power at fuse level when you want to check them. If you have a system that can only be tested by switching the lighting power supply off altogether you would only be able to do your tests when the building is empty and if you have suitable portable light or suitable daylight in all locations you are checking. If you have dangerous processes in your company lighting might have to be on all the time, so that a central switch-off would be inappropriate.

 

Helpful new video about emergency lighting terms

emergency-light-exitEmergency lighting is essential in most businesses, providing an immediate secondary source of light in the event of a power failure. When selecting emergency lighting you will, however, come across confusing terms such as maintained, non-maintained and switchable emergency lights. Our short video explains the differences in an easily understood way.

Safelincs also offers other guides about emergency lighting:

Our friendly staff are always happy to help you with your emergency lighting planning.
Please email support@safelincs.co.uk

 

Maintained or Non-Maintained Emergency Lighting?

The use of maintained or non-maintained emergency lighting should be decided based upon building type, its occupants and purpose or usage.

What is the difference between maintained and non-maintained emergency lights?

Maintained Lights

Maintained emergency lighting is on at all times. Maintained emergency lights are mains powered and used as part of the normal room lighting system. But, in an emergency situation when mains power fails, it will continue to stay lit for a specific duration powered by a back-up battery. It is generally used in non-residential places of public assembly such as leisure centres, cinemas, shopping centres etc. In public venues where the normal lighting system is often dimmed, for example cinemas, theatres or bars, maintained luminaries are always required.

Maintained lighting could include lit fire exit signs, bulkhead lighting or recessed downlights. There are LED options available which will reduce energy consumption and therefore running cost.

Non-maintained Lights

Non-maintained lighting usually only comes on for a specific duration when the power supply to normal artificial lighting fails. Non-maintained emergency lights are normally suitable for workplaces which are usually lit when occupied. Non-maintained light fittings are powered by a battery that is charged from a constant trickle of mains power. This battery should have enough charge to remain lit for a duration of 3 hours or more if mains power fails.

Illuminated fire exit sign next to a door

Which type of emergency lighting do I need?

British Standards guidelines 5266-1:2011 requires adequate emergency lighting to be installed in all high occupancy residential, public or commercial buildings. There are often more specific recommendations given by local authorities in each area.

Whether maintained or non-maintained emergency lighting is needed is largely a question for fire risk assessors based on each individual circumstance. If non-maintained lighting is deemed sufficient, it is also worth considering the reduced environmental impact and lower energy cost of using non-maintained lighting over time.

Watch our video to learn the difference between maintained and non-maintained emergency lighting

Can an emergency light fitting be both maintained AND non-maintained?

Yes. Maintained emergency light fittings or signs used as part of a normal room lighting system can also be wired to perform as a non-maintained fitting if required. Many maintained fittings are available as switchable units, meaning they can be switched between maintained and non-maintained modes using an ordinary light switch. Non-maintained light fittings cannot be wired for use in maintained operation.

Still unsure which type is most suitable?

If you are unsure which emergency lighting is best for your environment, it is best practice to conduct a fire risk assessment. A risk assessor will advise the most suitable option in line with the regulations.

Help guides

More information about all aspects of emergency lighting can be found in our emergency lighting guides.

British Standards

There are various British Standards that set out the regulations for emergency lighting where further guidance can be sought:

  • BS5266-1 Code of practice for emergency lighting of premises sets out general guidance on what emergency lighting should be provided in each environment
  • BS EN 50172 / BS 5266-8 Emergency escape lighting systems details minimum emergency lighting provision and testing for each type of environment

Mel Saunders

Head of Marketing

Mel joined Safelincs in 2020 and leads the content and marketing team.

What power consumption do emergency lights have?

When comparing power consumption of emergency lighting, and more specifically comparing LED lighting with standard lighting, it is important to understand some of the terms used and what they actually mean in this context. Sometimes you will see the power consumption documented in W (Watts) and sometimes it will be stated in VA (VoltAmperes). Whilst this looks confusing, it is comforting that both terms are actually identical. Multiplying the Voltage (V) of the electrical supply with the Amperage (A), which represents the current flowing through the light, gives you VA (VoltAmperes) which represents power consumption and is actually the same as the ‘Wattage’ (W). So VA equals W; they are just different ways of saying the same thing.

For this blog we will be comparing a CS8 maintained emergency bulkhead with an X-GSA LED maintained emergency bulkhead as they are very similar units, although they have a very different power consumption (also the CS8 produces light output of  100 lumens, whilst the X-GSA produces a slightly lower 85 lumens. This difference, though, is negligible.).

The CS8 contains an 8W T5 lamp which, as the name suggests, consumes 8 Watts. The ballast (the electronics that run the unit and the trickle charge for the backup battery) consumes 12 Watts, which means the CS8 in maintained mode consumes 20W.

The X-GSA contains 12 white LEDs which together consume 0.9W. The ballast consumes 2.6W, which means the whole unit in maintained mode consumes 3.5W.
That is a difference of 16.5W, which is huge when you consider that maintained lights are lit constantly. So, a CS8 in its maintained mode is consuming over 5 times more energy every hour than the X-GSA!

It is also important to know that LED emergency lights last substantially longer than fluorescent tubes. An LED bulb will last over 5 times longer than a traditional fluorescent light.

Generally speaking LED emergency lighting is more expensive than the traditional equivalent, but when you factor in the substantially lower power consumption and the lower maintenance needs of LED lights, they are actually more cost effective in the long term.

Emergency lighting guide

This post was written in 2011 and a more recent version exists. Please read our new guide: what you need to know about emergency lighting.

Planning your emergency lighting can be quite daunting and appear very complicated. We have developed an emergency lighting guide to help with all the issues of planning where to install your emergency lights.

The guide has been developed through answering customer questions on emergency lighting installation, ensuring that we are answering the questions you want to ask.  The guide covers topics such as planning, location, types of lights, signs and testing your emergency lights.

The emergency lighting planning section goes through six steps to ensure that you comply to the most update legislation, including the Health & Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996, and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The guide is designed to help proprietors or people responsible for emergency lighting provisions to think about the many aspects of evacuation and escape.

The section on where to locate your emergency lighting covers every day areas such as corridors and junctions, where there may be a change in direction to stairways, steps and ramps as well as exits and fire and first aid points. There is also a section for areas that are not so common, covering large open areas, generators or heavy machinery, escalators and lifts. Each of the sections gives a comprehensive guide to which compliant emergency light is available, giving you the overview and possibility to choose the correct lighting not only for location but also in accordance with your budget.

Emergency lighting is only one section of this guide. The guide also covers the installation of safety signs, again giving advice in accordance with the Health & Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996, and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.  It covers the requirement of externally illuminated signs or  internally illuminated fire exit signs.

Once the type of emergency lighting has been selected and the correct emergency exit or fire exit signs have been purchased it is critical to have some knowledge of the testing requirements as set down in the British Standard BS 5266-1:1999.

The emergency lighting guide looks at monthly testing, half yearly testing and testing of appliances that are three years old. It is the role of the designated responsible person to ensure that the emergency lighting, once it is installed, is working according to the legislation. When purchasing emergency lighting from Safelincs you can choose to register for a reminder at the end of the checkout process and we will automatically send you reminders to test your emergency lighting when the lighting is coming up for testing.

For recording your emergency lighting tests you can also download our free fire safety log book.

To make your assessment and planning of your emergency lighting as problem free as possible view the comprehensive guide