Where Is Emergency Lighting Required?

Fire Safety By Matthew Coombes

To answer the question of where emergency lighting is required, we first need to look at what its purpose is.

Emergency lighting is used to provide lighting when the mains supply to the standard lighting system fails. This can be to keep people safe in the event of a power-cut, enable staff to carry out power-outage duties such as evacuating customers from a department store, or to enable evacuation in the event of a fire. It is common for visibility to be poor in the event of a fire because fire can knock out the power to a whole building/area, damage the lighting systems making them not functional, or thick black smoke may make it hard to see.

Additionally, different types of organisations may have different evacuation needs. For example, if the lighting system in a hotel was to go down, but the staff are certain that there is no fire, a full evacuation may not be necessary and people within the hotel can safely navigate the building using the emergency lighting.

In the instance of a fire, emergency lighting will aid evacuation by illuminating key areas and escape routes and in a stay-put situation, it provides lighting that can prevent injury by reducing the risk of slips, trips and falls. It also has the added benefit of providing lighting to anyone entering the building for the purpose of search and rescue such as the fire service.

Emergency lighting is run off a different power source to your typical lighting, and when power to your building/lighting is knocked off, the emergency lighting will kick in. Often an emergency lighting system will be powered by large batteries enabling them to be on for 24-48 hours, or another means of supplying electricity will be used like a back-up generator.

Where to situate emergency lighting?

Emergency lighting is best positioned anywhere that is part of an emergency escape route, or that can lead someone to an escape route/safety. Such as, above fire doors, in corridors, above stairs, and in areas that lack other sources of light, such as windowless rooms, corridors, and stair wells.

If a building is used in periods of darkness, such as for a night shift, for night events (for example, a nightclub or bar), for sleeping/residency or throughout the winter months when sunlight is less available, emergency lighting provides an integral part of the emergency evacuation process.

Duration of emergency lighting

The duration of the emergency lighting system is very dependent on the type of work being carried out and the risks identified by the risk assessment. The back-up supply of power for your lighting needs to be suitable to keep all of the emergency lights on the system activated for an appropriate duration.

If you are expecting people to be present in your building when the main supply of lighting fails, such as our hotel example, a minimum duration of 3 hours of emergency lighting should be used, giving time for the main supply to become active again. You will likely need to evacuate the premises before the third hour of emergency lighting is up if lighting systems are not restored to prevent injury from slips, trips and falls.

If the expectation is for all visitors/staff/contractors to immediately evacuate when the lights go out, and no one is to return until lighting has been restored, a duration of 1 hour may be appropriate.

Why do my batteries have to be 24 – 48 hours, if the lighting is only on for 1 hour?

  1. Batteries can degrade – anyone who has owned a laptop or mobile phone for a long time should know that batteries become less effective over time. The batteries in your emergency lighting system will be receiving power from the mains 24/7 to keep them topped up ready for an emergency. Typically, batteries should be replaced every 4 years to circumvent this issue.
  2. Number of lights on your system – Each light on your emergency lighting system will draw power. This can quickly add up to the maximum output of the battery.
  3. Length of wires – Energy is lost as heat as it travels through the wires to reach the lighting systems, so the maths regarding how long your battery needs to last can’t be perfect.

Each of these three points means that you need a good margin of error, and a bigger battery than you may think you need can be important.

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