Guide to Emergency Lighting

Emergency lighting is lighting that is activated when there is a power failure. It illuminates an area to allow occupants to escape or to make safe an environment in order to evacuate it safely.

A loss of mains electricity can lead to a sudden loss of light and danger to the people within a building. This can be heightened by feelings of panic when a place is plunged into darkness.

Emergency lighting is an essential element of health and safety provision.

It is required in virtually every public and commercial building as well as high occupancy residential buildings.

In the UK, emergency lighting must be provided both within non-domestic premises and common areas of a House in Multiple Occupancy (HMO).

Knowing precisely what lighting is required and where it needs to be placed requires more than just a rudimentary knowledge of the legal and regulatory requirements. Failure to provide adequate emergency lighting can have serious consequences for persons who are deemed responsible for providing and maintaining it.

What is emergency lighting?

Most new buildings have emergency lighting installed during construction. Older buildings may need to have emergency lighting provided if there is a change of use.

Emergency lighting is normally required to operate fully automatically and give sufficient illumination for an adequate length of time to enable all personnel, guests, visitors and contractors to evacuate a building safely.

Emergency lighting is an umbrella term which covers emergency evacuation lighting and standby lighting.

Standby lighting is that which enables normal activities to continue in the absence of illumination from the mains power supply.

Emergency evacuation lighting is subdivided into escape route lighting, open area lighting and high risk task area lighting.

Escape route lighting is the part of an emergency lighting system which provides illumination for the safety of people leaving a location. Escape route lighting identifies the escape route and keeps it sufficiently lit.

Open area lighting illuminates the building to allow occupants to both see and head to evacuation routes. Open area lighting is sometimes referred to as “anti panic lighting”.

High risk task lighting allows personnel to cease a potentially dangerous process and make safe during a power outage.

Emergency lighting is part of the fire safety provision of a building and is a requirement of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Why is emergency lighting required?

A combination of different types of emergency lighting is likely to be needed in most buildings.

A risk assessment should identify the areas and locations which will require emergency lighting and the type of installation needed. It should also take into account the needs and characteristics of the people who occupy the building as well as its layout, features and fittings and the areas immediately surrounding exit and safe refuge places.

Vision varies from person to person, both in the amount of light required to perceive a space and objects clearly and in the time taken to adapt to the changes in the lighting level. In general, older people need more light and take longer to adapt to lower levels on hazard or escape routes.

Anxiety and confusion are a natural reaction to darkness during an emergency. Potential panic can be alleviated by strategically placed emergency lighting luminaires. Illuminated signs indicating the way out of a location or building reduce disorientation and apprehension.

Exits, and the routes to them, must be clearly signposted and always be visible. Emergency equipment such as fire extinguishers and escape aids should also be visible during an outage.

Who is responsible for emergency lighting?

Various pieces of legislation, regulations and codes of practice cover the requirements for emergency lighting.

These put the responsibility on defined individuals and places them in a position of accountability for buildings or areas within them.

Certain sections of the law also apply to letting agents, landlords and facilities management companies.

Article 14 (2) (h) of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRFSO) 2005 states that “Emergency routes and exits requiring illumination must be provided with emergency lighting of adequate intensity in the case of failure of their normal lighting”.

It is down to the “responsible person” of the property to ensure that the correct and appropriate emergency lighting is installed. This person is responsible for the safety of everyone in the building.

It is a legal requirement that fire exits and the locations of fire fighting equipment be illuminated properly and that the fire exit signage is sufficient to ensure the occupants of the building can recognise the safest and quickest way out of a building.

Each type of emergency lighting has a specific purpose and associated guidelines on how and where they are installed and operated.

What are the consequences of inadequate emergency lighting?

The consequences for business owners and responsible persons who fail to comply with fire safety legislation and emergency lighting rules can be very serious.

Ultimately, a building could burn to the ground in the event of a fire. This can have tragic consequences if occupants cannot safely escape. Owners and responsible persons are liable for any breaches of the law in regard to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

A lack of sufficient emergency lighting remains a regular instance of health and safety cases coming before the courts. A guilty verdict can result in hefty fines and more severe consequences. It is not uncommon for building owners and landlords to face imprisonment for failing to provide adequate emergency lighting.

The laws and regulations that apply to emergency lighting

Emergency lighting provision is governed by a number of documents. The main legal statutes in the UK are:

  • The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order;
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act;
  • Building Regulations;
  • The EU Workplace Directive.

Specific compliance guidance is given by Approved Documents B1 and B2 of the Fire Safety Regulations.

Since 2005, and the introduction of the Fire Regulation Reform Order, the legal imperative for the installation, operation and testing of emergency lighting systems has been deemed the same as for fire alarm systems.

Emergency lighting design and product standards are covered by BSs and BS ENs standards.