A Short Guide to
Emergency Lighting

Last Updated: June 29, 2022

The aim of this short guide is to give you a practical understanding of emergency lighting and its many variants. Emergency Lighting is a legal requirement, ensuring that the means of escape can be easily identified and safely used by all occupants, at any time, including during a fire evacuation or an electrical power cut.

what is emergency lighting?

The loss of mains electricity could be the result of a fire or a power cut and this could result in the normal lighting supply failing. When the electric power is cut or stops supplying the luminaire and any normal illumination fails, the emergency back-up will activate automatically giving enough illumination, of a sufficiently high level, to enable all occupants to evacuate the premises safely. The power can be provided via an emergency battery within the fitting or an external central battery or generator.

Who is responsible?

The building owner is required to prepare a fire risk assessment which will include detailing the emergency-lighting risks that have been identified as applying to the occupation of a building.

In the case of a multi-occupancy building, the tenants are responsible for the risks within their tenanted area, and the landlord is responsible for the common areas.

Different emergency light units

A combination of different types of emergency lighting is likely to be needed in most buildings. The fire risk assessment should identify the areas and locations that will require emergency lighting and identify the type of installation needed, it should also identify high-risk areas; high-risk or safety-related tasks; and highlight the areas where occupants may be required to remain in the case of a power failure. Points of emphasis and high-risk areas are likely to change during the life of a building.

Emergency lighting is a general term and is sub-divided into emergency escape lighting and standby lighting.

Escape route lighting

Part of an emergency escape lighting system provided to ensure that the means of escape can be effectively identified and safely used by occupants of the building.

Open area lighting

The objective of open area (anti-panic) lighting is to reduce the likelihood of panic and to enable safe movement of occupants towards escape routes by providing sufficient illumination to allow the occupants of a building to reach a place where an escape route can be identified.

Directional emergency lights
Emergency frog eye light

High-risk task area lighting

Part of an emergency escape lighting system that provides illumination for the safety of people involved in a potentially dangerous process or situation and to enable proper shut-down procedures for the safety of the operator and other occupants of the premises.

Standby lighting

Part of an emergency lighting system provided to enable normal activities to continue substantially unchanged. This guide does not include standby lighting as it is not a legal requirement and is a facility that may or may not be needed, depending on the use and occupancy of the premises, etc.

emergency design areas of emphasis

Emergency luminaires should be mounted near the following positions or fire safety equipment:

1) Each exit door intended to be used in an emergency
2) Stairs so that each flight of stairs receives direct light
3) Any changes in the level
4) Mandatory emergency exits and safety signs
5) Any change of direction
6) Intersection of corridors
7) Outside and near to each final exit
8) First aid post
9) Firefighting equipment
10) Fire alarm call points

Please also note that, within public buildings, toilet facilities exceeding 8m2, must have emergency lighting provided in line with open areas. Access toilets or any multi cubicle facilities with borrowed light should have emergency illumination from at least 1 luminaire.

emergency lighting classifications

One way of classifying the type of Emergency Lighting System is based on how the emergency light has its power supplied.

The emergency light could contain its own power supply, in the form of a battery, and this is referred to as Self Contained or Single Point.

Similarly, the power could be supplied from a central battery source, where a battery is located somewhere within the premises and the power is supplied to the emergency light via cabling.

In general, the decision to use either a central battery or a self-contained system is likely to be cost determined. If an installation has longevity and low maintenance as priorities, then the higher cost of a central battery may be acceptable on a very large project. Typically, luminaire and installation costs are a major consideration, particularly on smaller jobs, and it is this criterion that makes the self-contained luminaire the most popular choice.

mode of operation

Maintained emergency luminaire

These fittings operate as normal light fittings and are energized at all times, switching on and off with other light fittings in the area. Then, if and when the power fails, the emergency fittings illuminate via their battery backup, whereas all the others will not function.

Non-maintained emergency luminaire

This luminaire will remain in off mode and only illuminate once the mains supply to the normal lighting fails.

Emergency light bulkhead

duration of the back-up battery

The battery back-up of the emergency lighting system will depend on the use of the building and the evacuation strategy. It can either be a 1 or 3 hours duration system.

3-hour duration of emergency lighting required for: premises used as sleeping accommodation (e.g. Hospitals, Care homes, Guest houses, Colleges, Boarding schools, Some clubs, etc); non-residential premises used for treatment or care (e.g. Special Schools, Clinics, and similar premises, etc); non-residential premises used for entertainment (e.g. Theatres, Cinemas, Concert halls, Exhibition halls, Sports halls, Public houses, Restaurants, etc); non-residential public premises (e.g. Town halls, Libraries, Shops, Shopping malls, Art galleries, Museums, etc)

Because of the two types being allowed, in the UK, 3-hour duration emergency lighting is almost exclusively used, to avoid confusion and multiple product types.

emergency lighting test switches

Emergency Light Test Switch

Every emergency lighting system will need to have a suitable means for simulating a failure of the normal supply for testing and maintenance purposes. This is normally achieved by the use of key switches. These should be able to be operated by the user/owner of the system so that they can carry out weekly tests of the system. The use of a miniature circuit breaker (MCB) or fuse which isolates the whole lighting circuit is not acceptable as this could introduce a risk of injury when the emergency lights are being tested.

emergency lighting standards

Base Guidance Documents
BS 5266-1:2016
Emergency lighting. Code of practice for the emergency lighting of premises
BS 7671:2018
Requirements for Electrical Installations. IET Wiring Regulations
System Standards
BS EN 1838:2013
Lighting applications. Emergency lighting
BS EN 50172:2004, BS 5266-8:2004
Emergency escape lighting systems.
Product Standards
BS EN 60598-1:2015+A1:2018
Luminaires. General requirements and tests
BS EN 62034:2012
Automatic test systems for battery powered emergency escape lighting
BS EN 50171:2001
Central power supply systems

Please note that this article provides basic easy-to-understand guidance of fire safety provisions and the key fire safety information required to comply with legislation. Our articles are reviewed regularly. However, any changes made to standards or legislation following the review date will not have been considered. We aim to assist you to understand the fire-related terms within your Fire Risk Assessment.  It does not provide detailed technical guidance on all fire safety provisions, and you might require further advice or need to consult the full standards and legislation.

Fire Risk Consultancy Services have the knowledge and experience to assist your business to comply with all legal requirements surrounding fire safety including legislation. Be sure to read our accompanying guides: Fire Extinguishers, Fire Alarm System Types, Fire Door Regulations, Fire Safety Signs, also published on this site. 

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