Effective Emergency Lighting

How hard do you imagine it would be to find your way out of your block in the dark if the lights had failed? Emergency lighting saves lives. Anyone living in a flat hopes they will never need to rely on it but when a major incident does occur, effective, well maintained lighting and signage is vital.

In an article on emergency lighting regulation published earlier this year, I wrote: “Imagine how much more serious the worst-case scenario could become if your system is poorly maintained and doesn’t work properly when it’s really needed”. Tragically, residents at Grenfell Tower in West London faced the worst-case scenario earlier this month when a rapidly spreading fire completely burnt out their 24-storey building in a few hours. Until all investigations have been completed it is impossible to speculate on whether or not all emergency systems were working correctly. However, a fire of this magnitude is a wake-up call for anyone with responsibility for residents’ safety and we have received a number of calls in recent days from clients concerned to check that the installations in their blocks are working effectively.

The vast majority of property owners and managing agents are fully aware that emergency lighting provision isn’t something that can just be left to chance. There is a legal requirement to test and record maintenance on installations on a regular basis and this obligation also extends to property managers, RTMCos and RMC directors where they are designated the ‘responsible person’ under the code of practice for the emergency escape lighting of premises.


In May 2016, a revised Code BS 5266 – 1: 2016 was introduced. This provides detailed guidance to give confidence to property owners, landlords and managers that they are meeting their legal requirements for emergency lighting of common access routes within blocks of flats. This guidance is required reading. If you are found negligent, you could face fines or court proceedings for non-compliance with the law. You could also face corporate manslaughter charges if there is loss of life.

The revised code details the different types of emergency lighting systems that can be used, outlining how installations can be correctly applied to different categories of premises with varied requirements. It also highlights that, in addition to ensuring safe unobstructed means of escape from the premises at all times, arguably the most important function of emergency lighting is to make possible the immediate location and operation of fire alarm call points and fire-fighting equipment, and to minimise the chance of people panicking while trying to evacuate the building.

The starting point for lighting designers is to identify specific hazards within the building that should be lit and to highlight safety equipment and signs, as well as enabling safe travel along the escape route.

Specific locations where lighting must be provided are:
• At each exit door
• All safety exit signs
• At each change of direction
• At each intersection of corridors
• Outside and near each final exit
• Near each first aid post
• Near each piece of fire-fighting equipment and call point
• Near stairs so that each tread receives direct light
• Near any other change of floor level

Once this is accomplished the type of luminaire and its light output can be considered. Ultimately, any lighting installation is only as good as the maintenance schedule that keeps it in good working order. By writing your emergency lighting into your planned maintenance schedule in advance, you can ensure your installation runs efficiently and compliantly and is there to protect your block’s residents without any of the worry or hassle of last-minute call- outs.

If you are concerned about any aspect of the emergency lighting in your block, take professional advice – don’t leave it to chance. Future Lighting is keen to develop proactive partnerships. We will happily respond when there’s an emergency but would much rather work with you to check that your installation is compliant before you find out the hard way that it’s not. So if you are unsure whether or not your emergency lighting is fit for purpose, we are happy to offer help and advice either over the phone or via a site visit.


Jamie Willsdon, Director, Future Lighting

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