Emergency lighting at properties is one of those hidden services that most people won’t even be aware of, but in actual fact plays an essential part of keeping the property and people safe.
Other features like fire alarms and fire extinguishers are more easily seen and heard, whereas emergency lighting is often hidden away other than those sometimes bright illuminated boxes over exit doors with green running men on. Although they may be assumed as bog-standard lighting, they may in actual fact be this special ‘emergency lighting’ service.
In short, they exist to come on when there is a power cut to a property and so help people safely leave the property, as well as highlight important equipment and areas. Whether it’s from a local power cut, or from, say, a fire at the property affecting electricity provision, if the power goes and it’s a dark night with people in a building, then it’s going to be a minefield for them to safely and quickly vacate the property.
Think of the analogy of going into your garden shed at night to find something where you know the lights might pop off – you’ll probably instinctively take a torch with you just in case, or a mobile phone with a torch feature.
As soon as you’re in the realm of bigger, more commercial, and more communal properties, then emergency lighting tends to be the norm, often behind the scenes in the main walkways and areas. Landlords often need to maintain these in communal areas through maybe a service charge, or occupiers and tenants can do it directly for their own areas, and it covers non-domestic properties, and residential communal areas and HMOs.
Six Emergency Lighting Aspects to Consider
From a property management perspective, it’s important to have a general overview of how emergency lighting should be correctly set-up and working, and then regularly checked and maintained.
Without getting into all the technical details that an electrician and contractor will need to know, take a step back and look at these six key aspects to them – you’ll then see how they’re not as daunting or as involved as you may think.
1. What Determines The Need
It’s best to look at this through two perspectives, the first is when a property is first constructed or seriously refurbished and any need for emergency lighting being part of any general building consents.
The second is when things are reviewed going forward which should take into account any changes to the building and the use, primarily through a Fire Risk Assessment.
The former will need a professional’s advice, and the latter a nominated responsible person, often through an external Risk Assessor, and in terms of the main authority on the subject in the UK this is the Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting (ICEL).
Whether this is through detailed specifications or more general safety principles, these are what legally determine what should be in existence to provide sufficient lighting in the event of power failure. During any incident, adherence to these will of course need to be shown, therefore make sure you’re complying.
Even though they may have been installed satisfactorily, on-going management needs to be aware of what’s there and keep on the ball with ongoing changes and testing.
This can be related to the actual use of the property, so for example if there is a potential blind-spot but this happens to be near windows where street lights shine through at night then in reality there can be enough light from here rather than having to ensure further emergency lighting in the property. From another perspective, you may have more vulnerable persons using a property who may need an additional torch in order to ensure that in any failure they can help themselves around the property more.
Whatever it is, get it correctly assessed and documented.
2. The Main Gear
The important part of course are the actual lights themselves, and making sure they’re the correct ones, in the right location, and shining the best possible light around.
Sometimes they can be part of normal light fittings, often with a small green or other coloured light somewhere showing that they have emergency cover as well. Other times they are standalone fittings, including special ones over, say, main exit doors with clear signage on as well.
Wherever they are at the moment, then it may be worth looking at changes to not only ensure greater cover but lower costs longer term. So a popular trend in communal areas like shared stairs and corridors in apartment blocks and offices, is to have them as part of normal light fittings with new LED bulbs for better efficiency longer term.
You could also look into additional timers and sensors to control the general lighting better, and have on 24/7 at a lower dimmed level and rise to full brightness when people’s movement triggers them.
3. How Things Are Powered
In short, emergency lights need electricity in some way to work, and more importantly have an ability to store this in order to then release and power a bulb when the normal supply stops. You have what are called ‘maintained’ lights which are on all the time anyway, or ‘non-maintained’ which are only designed to go on when needed, but either way there are two important factors they need.
Firstly, to have a source of electricity somewhere to charge-up the emergency power source, hence wires and cables just like any other light.
Secondly, a form of battery either somewhere else in the property, or more popular as part of each light fitting on a self-contained basis.
The important thing to realise, is that even though emergency lights may never need to work, the batteries will need replacing over time as they are continually under strain to keep charged. Add to this any other general changes to cables and fittings, then you’ll need to pencil in these kind of maintenance costs, which means it may be cheaper to replace a whole new fitting with a new self-contained battery inside rather than just individual batteries in a fitting or one large battery back-up somewhere.
4. Spot the Signs
After you have the main kit working, don’t forget any signage to help identify. This is often in the form of green running men, and important over areas like the final exit doors, and works closely with any general direction signs for people safely leaving the property as part of fire evacuation procedures.
Make sure these are the correct ones, and use the opportunity to highlight any other not-as-essential points such as test-switches, location of log books, and numbering of fittings so that people can easily identify them when being tested.
5. Testing Times
Once you have the right emergency light systems in place, the general rule is that they need two types of ongoing testing.
This will basically make sure they can still work in the event of power failure, and therefore what you’ll need from both forms of testing is the ability to turn off the main electricity supply so that the light fittings trigger into emergency mode under battery power. This can be from certain electrical switches or fuses, or more commonly certain test switches dotted around the property where you need a special fish-key to operate them. The tester can then trigger them off, but remembering to place back on afterwards.
The first test is a full discharge completed on an annual basis. This turns the power off for up to three hours to deliberately drain the batteries down and see if they are able to still remain on after a long duration.
The second is a more simple flick test on a monthly basis, when they only briefly go off in order to see if all the lights are working, and then the power going straight back on.
6. Detailing the Documentation
The icing on the cake is then to document everything to do with your emergency light systems and testing regime.
So details of the initial system and specification will be needed, including any certification. This needs to include a schedule of actual emergency light fittings and other pieces of equipment like test switches, which can easily be referred to for those needing to use it. It’s often good to clearly number these as well, so that you know light six is not working, and not just leaving to a general reference to “one of the lights on the top floor”.
Logging all the testing is also key, whether through a standard Emergency Light Log Book or your own bespoke summaries.
All competent contractors should also provide necessary certification of both the works but also themselves to prove competency.
Don’t Leave it to an Emergency
Sussing out the world of emergency lighting is not as difficult as you may at first think. Hopefully you’ll never actually need them, but of course you need to first ensure they are sufficiently installed and working, and secondly that they’re correctly and regularly maintained by the right people.
And that’s about it. Once you understand what roles are needed, make sure that any contractor who maintains them is not getting carried away with things as you may be able to help with say some of the basic checks yourself. You then need to make sure everything is correctly signed, logged, and documented.