Imagine you’re at work and the fire alarms go off. You know the routine – everyone drops what they’re doing, stands up from their desks and troops out by the nearest fire exit in an orderly fashion.

Now imagine you’re at work and the fire alarms go off, but this time all the lights go out too. There’s a power cut. Then you start to smell smoke. You can’t see where you’re going, you can’t find the nearest exit – worse still, you all have to make your way down the stairwell in the pitch black trying not to trip over each other. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

This might sound like a worse-case scenario, but it is exactly why the fire safety rules and regulations around emergency lighting are so stringent – and why the penalties for businesses that fail to follow those regulations are so severe.

An emergency lighting system is fully automatic lighting that switches on when the main power supply is cut, allowing sufficient light so that all occupants of a building can evacuate safely.

Emergency lighting falls into two categories: emergency escape lighting and standby lighting.

Emergency escape lighting and standby lighting – what’s the difference?

Standby lighting is a system of emergency lighting that comes into play in the event of a non-hazardous power cut. It provides illumination to enable workers or occupants to continue with their normal activities and it is not a legal requirement. 

The kind of emergency lighting we at Expert Fire Solutions are more concerned with is emergency escape lighting. This system of emergency lighting is a legal requirement under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, which states that “emergency routes and exits requiring illumination must be provided with emergency lighting of adequate intensity in the case of failure of their normal lighting”.

Emergency escape lighting is further sub-divided into escape route lighting, open area lighting and high risk task area lighting.

How frequently should I be testing my emergency lights?

Different systems have different requirements, but, as a general guide, emergency lighting should have the following:

  • Daily inspection:This applies only to emergency lighting systems with a single central backup battery or generator. A daily visual inspection should be carried out of the power supply to confirm that the system is in a ready condition.
  • Monthly test: All emergency lighting should be tested once a month to check that all lights and signs are clean and working correctly, and a written record should be kept of this test.
  • Annual test: Once a year the emergency lighting system should undergo a test for the full duration as required under your building’s regulations. This can vary between one and three hours, depending on the nature of the premises. Emergency lights must still be working at the end of the test and the results of the test should be recorded, with any failures resolved as soon as possible. The system’s battery must be fully recharged before the building is reoccupied.

What are the consequences if emergency lights don’t meet standards?

Business owners can face big fines or even a jail sentence if they fail to meet fire safety regulations with regard to emergency lighting.

In 2014, Peter Metcalf was jailed for 18 months and fined £5,243 after it was discovered his Blackpool hotel was a potential fire death trap, with a shocking 15 breaches of fire regulations. Inspectors found fire exit routes were blocked, smoke alarms were disabled and there was no proper emergency lighting – if a fire had broken out in the hotel, it would have been utter chaos.

Stories like this send a chill down the spine, but with so many rules and regulations around emergency lighting, it can be all too easy to unintentionally break the law.

How might I fall foul of the emergency lighting regulations?

There are a number of ways that businesses can unwittingly break the law when it comes to emergency lighting.

Failing to take into account emergency lighting systems when a building is remodelled in some way is perhaps the most common transgression. Doors might be moved, new walls could be erected, and this all affects a premises’ emergency light requirements.

Another common error is failing to fully recharge the batteries for your emergency lighting system before allowing people back into a building.

In many instances, emergency lights are required to have sufficient power to be illuminated for three hours. Businesses must carry out routine testing on to ensure their lighting system meets these standards, but it’s often the case that occupants will be allowed to return to the building following these tests before the batteries have had a chance to be fully recharged.

This effectively leaves the building without the proper emergency lighting for a time, which, of course, is breaking the law.

A comprehensive fire risk assessment documenting emergency lighting provision is also a legal requirement for all non-domestic buildings. Failing to carry out regular and routine fire risk assessments and to keep a record of those assessments is another common issue that can land businesses in trouble.

Call in the Experts for total peace of mind

To make sure your building is meeting all fire safety regulations, it’s best to call in professionals like Expert Fire Solutions.

Not only can we supply, fit and service emergency lighting systems, our qualified fire risk assessors can also carry out a comprehensive fire risk assessment, including the necessary testing of emergency lights. Read more about our fire risk assessment service here.

Get in touch to book your assessment today.