Emergency Lighting

Why have emergency lighting?

Emergency lighting can be a lifeline for people finding their way out of a building if the main lighting fails.  This is particularly important in the event of a fire.  Emergency lighting should be fit for purpose.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, recommends lighting used is covered by the BSI Kitemark scheme. So how can you be sure your emergency lighting is compliant?  You can download a copy of this government publication here

The legislation

If you have 5 or more employees you are required by law, the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, to carry out a fire safety risk assessment.  Once completed you must keep a written record of the assessment.

This legislation exists to ensure that the correct emergency lighting is installed to cover any identifiable risks.  Furthermore, it will correctly operate in the event of a failure of the main lighting supply.

BS5266 is the code of practice for the emergency lighting of premises… Additionally, the BS5266 code, and the BSEN1838 code, provide specifiers with information regarding areas that need emergency lighting.  Typically this is the minimum levels of illumination, duration, and maximum brightness to prevent glare.  Additionally, any points of emphasis which require particular consideration.

Failure to comply with these stipulations not only puts lives at risk and raises the possibility of prosecution but can also invalidate insurance policies.  Since emergency lighting is seldom used every day you may be tempted to opt for cheaper luminaires. DON’T!

BEWARE! These are often supplied from distant sources and will pass through numerous intermediaries before installation. This can lead to confusion over the precise specifications and the claims made by manufacturers and sellers.  problems may arise where these may not be independently verified.

Buying cheaply may also turn out to be a false economy since lower-quality components can shorten the lifespan of batteries and lamps.  Potentially they may also have inferior optics, resulting in an increased number of fittings being required to meet the minimum emergency lighting levels.

As this is a life safety product you do need to consider whether a cheaper option might be more vulnerable to failure.   If so, what is the additional risk you have as the Responsible Person?  Remember, you may be held liable.

The easiest way to ensure that your emergency lighting is fit for purpose is to buy products approved by third-party certification schemes such as BSI Kitemarking and the Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting (ICEL) registration.

The BSI governs the implementation of strict European standards on the design and manufacture of emergency luminaires under regulations including EN60598-1 and EN60598-2-22.

Meanwhile, the manufacturers’ trade organisation ICEL provides a product auditing and approval process. If ICEL-approved luminaires are installed at the correct location, as per  BS5266, using verified spacing data, the system will meet the minimum levels for the safety of people. However, this may need enhancement if specific risks are identified during the risk assessment.

Upon meeting these conditions, the installation would then be considered sufficiently safe to protect users of the building and reduce the likelihood of any legal action relating to non-compliance with the Regulatory Reform Order.

Using more expensive higher quality approved emergency lighting may initially seem more costly, but under-investment may be more costly.

For example, good quality products may have a higher output and better spacing performance.  This may result in fewer units needed to achieve the required level of illumination.  As a result, you may reduce the outlay on products and also the installation cost. It is also worth bearing in mind the total cost of ownership as energy costs may be reduced.


To this end, it may be worth considering the use of LED-based emergency luminaires. Running costs are lower plus they require less maintenance. LED-based lights have a working life often greater than 50,000 hours- up to 10 times longer than a conventional lamp.

Where to site them

The latest generation incorporates optic lenses to direct light into a specific pattern. This ensures the light is correctly distributed to maximise the coverage from the luminaire.  This may be needed to cover a larger open area or a specific distribution to maximise the spacing along an escape route.

Just like buying a house, it’s all about the location, emergency lighting positioning is crucial. Some of the key locations where emergency lights should be installed are:

  • along escape routes,
  • at every change in direction,
  • adjacent to any step or trip hazard,
  • over every flight of stairs so that each tread receives direct light,
  • close to firefighting equipment,
  • call points and first aid points,
  • outside every final exit to a place of safety or any other location identified by the risk assessment.

Luminance, Lux, or light levels

Under the regulations, a minimum luminance of 1 lux is required on the centre line of an escape route with a uniformity of at least 40:1. In open areas however, a minimum of 0.5 lux is required.

Higher levels of luminance are also required for areas identified as having a higher risk. Examples of these areas are described within the BS5266 guidance, along with the recommended higher lux level values. Alternatively, ask MMV Contracting Limited to look at the design with you.

Too often we see emergency lighting systems that fail to take into account the failure of supply in the hours of darkness, Regulation BS5266-1:2011 requires that external lighting must be provided to guide evacuees from the point where they exit a building to a place of safety. This means that many applications will need a weatherproof luminaire operating in maintained or switched-maintained mode, controlled by daylight sensors. LED luminaires can play a big part in this design to reduce maintenance and running costs and help to reduce your carbon footprint.

Maintenance & servicing

Minimum routine testing schedules are one of the requirements of the regulations and standards. The time this takes can become a significant demand on facilities managers and maintenance teams.   MMV Contracting Limited can take on this burden for you releasing you and your teams to concentrate on other pressing matters.

One way to avoid the ongoing costs is to specify quality emergency luminaires in the first place. Another tip is to consider self-testing systems, which can reduce the expense, and time demands associated with manual testing regimes.

With automatic test systems, results from an entire network are collected and fed back to a central point where the exact location of the fault can be pinpointed. The system will also identify the cause of the fault which might be a failed lamp or module.  This allows the necessary spare part to be selected and taken to the location to speed up the repair process.

Call MMV Contracting Limited if you wish to look at this type of design.  We will bring along one of our Lighting Professionals to look at your needs and design the best system for your budget.

Additional Considerations

In addition to your emergency lighting, you should also consider your emergency signage at the earliest stage. Your obligation is to ensure that escape routes are clearly defined and identified with the correct exit signage.

When selecting a product, be aware that the viewing distance for an internally-illuminated exit sign is calculated by multiplying the height of the illuminated element by a factor of 200. This information will normally be available from reputable manufacturers. For externally illuminated signs, the multiplication factor is only 100.  But it must have at least 5 lux at any point of the sign in emergency conditions.

An alternative option is the photoluminescent exit sign. However, it is important to remember that these rely on ambient light to charge their surface.  Additionally, EN1838 states that under emergency lighting conditions the sign shall be sufficiently illuminated to be visible. The safety colour must remain green and the contrast colour must remain white within the colour boundaries specified in ISO3864-4. This usually means that general lighting must be permanently switched on in order for the exit light to self-illuminate in the event of a power failure.