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Emergency lighting … it’s on the way out

Author: Jon Sharman
Published: March 28, 2013

The term ‘emergency lighting’ refers to any form of hard wired lighting that remains operational during a loss of mains power supply. Emergency lights might be green-coloured escape route lights or ordinary-looking luminaires that blend seamlessly in with the rest of your lighting scheme; both types have an invaluable role to play.

Escape or standby

Emergency lighting is commonly divided into two subsets: escape lighting and standby lighting. The role of the latter - standby lighting - is to maintain lighting in critical task-oriented areas where a hazardous or life-dependent activity may be taking place. Examples might include a hospital operating theatre, an air traffic control centre, or any type of high risk industrial space. Escape lighting is further divided into two categories: escape route lighting and open area lighting, which are collectively designed to allow quick and easy evacuation of a building with as little scope for panic and confusion as possible.

These lights and their various roles are clearly defined by British Standard 5266-1, which is a code of practice for emergency lighting. Building regulations require that this code of practice is adhered to, with the standard occasionally being revised to align with European and draft European standards and UK legislation. For precise up-to-date guidelines on how to conform to BS 5266-1 and correctly install emergency lighting, a visit to the ICEL website is recommended (Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting).

Key emergency light factors

Some of the key factors to consider when designing an emergency lighting scheme are as follows:

  • Emergency light duration should usually be 3 hours. A 1-hour span might be acceptable in situations where reoccupation of the building is delayed until the system is recharged.
  • Whenever a building is occupied, exit signs should be illuminated. Maintained emergency exit lights like the Eterna 4W LED Double Sided Emergency Exit Sign are necessary in licensed and entertainment venues and in any premises where visitors are likely to be unfamiliar with layout.
  • Emergency escape routes should be established, and potential hazards identified. Note that old format text-only exit signs no longer meet requirements; they should use the pictogram format either with accompanying text or without (the two types should not be mixed—you are required to use one or the other, with pictogram-only signs being the more recent design).
  • An ‘open area’ is defined as being greater than 60m² and should incorporate requisite levels of emergency lighting, as should any smaller space that is identified as hazardous in a risk assessment. Any such areas fall under the umbrella of escape lighting, and should not obstruct easy passage to designated escape routes through lack of illumination.
  • High risk task areas need to be identified for the installation of standby emergency lighting.
  • Relatively recent changes to BS 5266-1 clarified the need for external escape route lighting to fully cover the route to a place of safety. A place of safety should be reachable within 2-3 minutes.
  • Any miscellaneous areas not covered under the headings of escape or standby lighting also need to be considered. For example: lifts, moving stairways, walkways, escalators, toilet areas over 8m² gross, and all disabled toilets.
  • Luminaire housings on escape routes should be fire-retardant in accordance with BS 5266-1. The outstanding Fireguard LED7 Emergency Downlight is an example of a suitable choice of fitting. Emergency luminaires should be positioned at mandatory points of emphasis.

Other important emergency lighting considerations need to be taken into account, including lighting levels (measured in lux), disability glare, diversity (ratio of maximum lighting level to minimum lighting level), response time, viewing distances, spacing, testing, log keeping, and maintenance. Again, precise guidance covering all aspects of emergency lighting is available from ICEL, including the initial designing of an emergency lighting scheme, carrying out risk assessments, required maintenance regimes and record-keeping.

Maintained or non-maintained … is that the question?

A maintained emergency light is designed to function as a normal light and stay switched on in the event of a power cut, whereas a non-maintained light only activates when the mains supply is lost. Generally speaking, maintained lights are required in public buildings or premises where visitors may be unfamiliar with their surroundings, whilst non-maintained lights are more commonly used in workplaces. In either case a battery typically provides power for up to 3 hours, with battery power being recharged from the mains. In larger buildings a central battery system is sometimes used in emergency lighting schemes, with the advantage of reduced maintenance costs.

Lighting for all emergencies

Emergency lighting comes in various flavours, including LED, CFL (fluorescent), and sometimes halogen. Whilst LED is fast becoming the crown prince of lighting, for the time being it still generally requires a greater up-front investment than other technologies. It’s not even contestable that LED is the most complete solution for our future lighting needs, but we shouldn’t forget that other technologies have also been greatly developed, with energy-saving halogen sometimes offering substantial benefit over its original form and fluorescent lighting totally distanced from the flickering, headache-inducing technology it once might have been.

Non-LED emergency lights

Halogen is famous for its bright, crisp light, and although it’s notoriously uneconomical to run as a wholesale solution, those rules barely apply when it’s used as a non-maintained emergency light. The Eterna Twin Spot Emergency Fitting is a case in point - an ideal choice for a large workspace such as a warehouse. Other similarly priced LED options are available in the same range, including an IP65 weatherproofed model to help with exterior escape route lighting. The increasing affordability of LED is evident here.

LED emergency lights

Intensely developed over the past few years by the world’s top manufacturers, LED has several advantages when used in emergency lights. Some of these advantages are already well chronicled, like phenomenally long lifespan and incredible energy efficiency, but other lesser-known LED properties are of specific use in emergency lighting. For instance, the directional nature of LEDs concentrates the intensity of illumination at floor level (measured in lux), thus helping to meet British Standard light level requirements. Other light forms produce wider-spreading illumination that is often wasted to some extent - hence they require modification to produce a focused beam.

The small size of an LED makes it easier for designers to incorporate the technology into a wide range of luminaires, too. Edge-LED lighting is used as backlighting in televisions to facilitate a slimmer design, and offers the same benefits in emergency signage. Lyco stock a variety of such products from respected names such as Eterna. Shock and vibration-proof and operational even at low temperatures, LED is perfectly suited to many challenging environments or scenarios.

The accelerated evolution of LED has substantially increased its potential, so that today it’s a viable option for most lighting purposes. The discreet non-maintained Eterna 3W LED Compact Emergency Downlight is a great choice of illumination in escape route areas, with its LED design allowing an unobtrusive fitting with a focused intensity of light.

Conversion kits

An emergency lighting kit enables you to convert many types of regular low voltage or mains-powered lights into emergency lights. To work with a mains-powered luminaire, the lamp will usually need to be low-energy. One of the primary advantages is that it helps you to maintain a cohesive look in your lighting scheme, so it’s an ideal solution for ad-hoc emergency lighting requirements, or simply for allowing greater choice in interior lighting design.

Conversion packs are available in maintained, non-maintained, or dual purpose versions, and invariably include a 3-hour battery pack and, in the case of LED kits, an LED driver.

Taking responsibility

The importance of correctly installed and functional emergency lighting hardly needs underlining, but still... in the event of any unforeseen disaster the owner or occupiers of a premises and the person appointed as ‘responsible’ under Fire Safety Order legislation (applicable in England and Wales) and the 5266-1 code of practice might very well be held accountable in a court of law. An emergency lighting risk assessment should be carried out and regularly reviewed, and any necessary action taken and recorded. Maintenance and testing should be rigorously applied in accordance with freely available guidelines. Self-testing emergency luminaires are recommended, with many models incorporating this and reporting results through LED indicator lights. The burden of responsibility can become insurmountably burdensome if it isn’t taken seriously!

In closing

Hopefully this article will have served as a useful glimpse at some of the salient points to consider when installing an emergency lighting scheme, whilst outlining some of the benefits of various technologies. Remember that Lyco are always available to assist you with specific products, and we proudly offer a friendly and award-winning level of customer service to meet that endeavour!

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