How to choose and install the right emergency lighting systems

Katrina Adamczyk, Manager of Category & Merchandising at ElectricalDirect, looks at how to ensure the correct emergency lighting products are selected, including the requirements and guidance given in the regulations.

Effective emergency lighting is essential to ensure safe evacuation, prevent panic and reduce the risk of injury in the event of a fire or power failure when standard illumination fails. Therefore, implementing effective and compliant solutions is vital.

Emergency Lighting Regulations

There are two main sources of regulation regarding emergency or escape lighting – the building regulations and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO). Although the specific requirements differ, Approved Document B in England and Wales, Section 2 of Scottish Building Standards and Technical Booklet E in Northern Ireland all require the installation of emergency lighting in new and renovated public, commercial and high density residential buildings. These regulations reference British Standard BS 5266 as the key resource for guidance on the intensity, duration and placement of emergency lighting.

Furthermore, the RRO makes it a legal requirement for those responsible for the building to ensure that sufficient emergency lighting is maintained throughout the operation of the building, based on the layout and use. It states that the onus is on the ‘responsible person’ to ensure full fire safety. In a workplace, this is the employer or the person who has control of the premises. As such it is common for there to be more than one responsible person and each must take responsibility.

Choosing emergency lighting

The selection of emergency lighting products and systems will vary from project to project, with separate areas of a building often requiring different solutions. There are three main areas of emergency escape lighting:

1. Escape route lighting

2. Open area lighting

3. High-risk task area lighting

Escape route lighting – provides illumination of any route used for evacuation so potential dangers are visible, as well as changes in floor level and other trip hazards. The lighting should also allow equipment such as fire blankets, extinguishers and first aid kits to be located. BS 5266 recommends that for escape routes up to two metres wide with normal risk levels, 50% of the route width should be lit to a minimum of one lux, with wider escape routes being treated as a number of two-metre wide bands.

Open area lighting – for spaces larger than 60m2 or where escape routes pass through an open area. The purpose of this lighting is to prevent alarm or anxiety caused by the sudden darkness and allow occupants to safely locate and reach an escape route.

Task area lighting – Implemented in parts of a building where a potentially dangerous process is being carried out. In these areas, the emergency lighting should deliver the necessary illumination to shut down equipment and make any work in progress safe.

Emergency lighting solutions can be divided into two main types – maintained and non-maintained. In a maintained system the luminaires will operate as part of the main lighting of the building and simply switch to a battery backup when the power fails. In contrast, non-maintained systems consist of separate fittings that only activate in an emergency. For both types, the backup supply can be provided by a central battery connected to all fittings or individual packs connected to each.

In most cases the localised, standalone option offers simpler implementation and future extension of the system as well as greater cost effectiveness. Many standard LED luminaires can be incorporated into an emergency system by fitting a unit that contains a battery pack and controller. This monitors the permanent live and will switch from the mains to back-up supply when the power fails. There is also a wide range of products available with integrated emergency packs to suit different applications. These include LED panels commonly used in offices, high bay lights for warehouse environments, interior and exterior LED bulkhead and battens lights, as well as illuminated emergency exit signs.

Non-maintained units offer a simple solution where additional illumination is required, or for areas that are only used as an escape route and as such, do not require full illumination during everyday use. As with maintained systems, there is an array of different options available including downlights and adjustable wall mounted spotlights.

BS 5266 specifies a minimum operational duration of one hour on the battery supply. However, this is increased to three hours where evacuation of the building may take longer, such as where it includes sleeping accommodation. The longer duration is also required where the premises will be reoccupied immediately after power is restored. This is because the batteries will take time to recharge from the mains after being activated. A one hour system may not have sufficient charge to provide the minimum required duration if the power fails again before the battery is fully recharged.

Finally, although the regulations set out minimum standards for emergency lighting, many building owners and managers are now looking to invest in systems that provide a greater degree of occupant safety, rather than simply complying with the regulations. This could be installing additional emergency light fixtures to provide a higher level of illumination to allow an easier and safer evacuation. In this instance, Installers are ideally placed to make recommendations about how this can be achieved in the most effective way.

For emergency lighting there is no one size fits all solution. Selecting the right products for a project requires the installer to look at a range of factors including the dimensions and layout of the interior spaces and how the building is used. ElectricalDirect has an extensive range of emergency lighting products from trusted brands so installers can get all the required products from one source.

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