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A guide to emergency lighting

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Bulkhead Emergency Light

A guide to emergency lighting

During a fire, two things can happen:

  • Wiring can be damaged and lighting can be lot
  • Black smoke can obscure natural light

It’s important that you have emergency exit lights fitted to ensure you and everyone in your building can escape.

Emergency lights will:

Ensure that people are able to locate fire exits
Allow the safe operation of firefighting tools
Illuminate exit routes
Lower the risk of injury due to the dark
Keep people calm

Maintained vs. non-maintained emergency lighting

There are two main types of emergency light available; maintained and non-maintained.

Maintained emergency lights: are always lit, and stay lit during a fire if normal lighting is lost

In normal conditions, maintained emergency lights will double up with the main source of light to further illuminate areas. They’re a popular choice in areas where lots of light is needed.

However, maintained emergency lighting costs more to run.

Non-maintained emergency lights: only come on in an emergency, when normal lighting is lost

In order to detect a power failure, non-maintained emergency lighting units are linked to the building’s main circuit. This way they know when to light up.

Self-contained vs. centrally supplied lights

Here are the key features of each.

Self-contained emergency lights:

  • Everything needed to run the system is contained in the unit
  • They’re easier to install
  • The system can easily be extended with additional luminaires
  • The integrity of the system is greater
  • They’re unsuitable for harsh environments
  • Maintenance costs are lower
  • The battery life tends to be shorter

Centrally supplied emergency lights:

  • They’re connected to an emergency power unit
  • They cannot run independently
  • They’re environmentally stable
  • The battery life tends to be longer
  • They’re easier to test
  • You risk losing lighting if the emergency power unit is damaged

Where to place the emergency lights

As a rule, you need to place them closely enough to each other so that every area will be lit if there’s an emergency.

You should also place them at:

  • Emergency exit signs
  • Doorways
  • Stairways
  • Changes of level
  • Intersections
  • Changes of direction
  • Near firefighting tools

How much light?

This depends on the area. Defined Escape Routes BS 5266–1 state that:

…horizontal lighting must be provided at floor level on the centre line of an escape route, not less than 0.2 lux. Where escape routes are up to 2m wide, 50% of the width must be illuminated to at least 0.1 lux. Wider escape routes should be illuminated as though they are a number of 2m wide bands.

How to mount them

Make sure that you mount the light as directed.

The worst thing you can do is to buy a ceiling mounted light and mount it on a wall or over a doorway. The light will shine straight ahead leaving the wall you were trying to illuminate dark.

Lighting duration

Lights will be illuminated for a set amount of time when in emergency mode. This is normally 3 hours or 1 hour. Just make sure you check which one you’re buying.

Maintaining them

  • Make sure the light’s indicator is always lit, which means the mains supply is connected
  • Switch the light into emergency mode each month
  • Put the light into emergency mode and let it burn for its full duration each year
  • Document all checks and maintenance work in your log book

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