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Emergency Lighting Explained

Emergency Lighting Explained

Emergency Lighting Explained

Emergency lighting provides a back-up light source in the event of an emergency. This back-up source could be required as a result of a fire or power cut. In most cases, the loss of power leads to complete darkness, resulting in possible danger for the occupants in the building. Emergency lighting operates automatically and outputs a sufficient level of light to help all occupants locate the exits and evacuate the building safely.

Building and fire legislations require all public premises to have fitted and fully operational emergency lighting. It is important that electricians understand and comply with current Building Regulations and any local authority requirements when fitting emergency lighting. British and Irish Standards provide electricians and lighting designers with clear guidelines to work to. These standards are the minimum safe standards required by law. It is important to note that higher standards may be required for specific installations.

After the emergency lighting systems are designed, installed and commissioned to the required standards, it is up to the owner of the premises to organise a fully rated duration test each year. If you need any assistance with a lighting survey, you can speak to one of our lighting specialists and designers if you email [email protected].

Types of Emergency Lighting

Most people are aware of emergency lighting, but they may not know about the various types that make up an efficient emergency lighting system. Emergency lighting is a general term which can be sub-divided into different types.

  • Escape Route Emergency Lighting
  • Exterior Emergency Lighting
  • High Risk Task Area Emergency Lighting

Escape Route Emergency Lighting

This type of lighting provides illumination for the safety of occupants trying to evacuate a building. Initially, people do not know the reason for a power cut during emergency situations. Therefore, they need to exit the premises as safely and quickly as possible. Emergency lighting is required here, helping the occupants identify and safely follow the escape route.

Imagine a hallway or room that unexpectedly loses power and begins filling with smoke. Exit signs automatically illuminate and help guide people to safety, with running man graphics to indicate the escape routes.

Emergency escape lighting is essential in many areas and should normally cover the following:

  • Exit Doors
  • Escape Routes
  • Stairways
  • Intersection of corridors
  • Toilets & rooms with no windows
  • Firefighting equipment
  • Fire alarm points
  • Equipment that needs turned off in an emergency
  • Changes in floor level

Exterior Emergency Lights

Premises may need external emergency lighting, in particular companies that operate through the night, and now for most companies due to the dark evenings. For example, if there is an unexpected power cut in the evening when there is no daylight, the building will need to be illuminated outside as well. Particularly for customers or guests who are visiting the premises for the first time, as without the exterior emergency lighting, they may walk into danger.

Exterior emergency lighting must be IP65 rated, otherwise they may be vulnerable to damage if exposed to water or dust. Our popular IP65 bulkhead and sign can be used for internal and external emergency lighting. The 7 Watt LED IP65 Twin Spot Emergency Light  is another popular emergency lighting option for outside, the two fully adjustable heads allow for the best light coverage.

High Risk Task Areas

This type of emergency lighting illuminates’ areas in which people may be involved in a dangerous process, such as working with high risk machinery or heavy materials. Again, a back up lighting source is required immediately to help enable proper shut down procedures for the operators, and so everyone can evacuate the premises safely.

Maintained and Non-Maintained

When installing a new emergency lighting system an issue that usually needs clarified is whether to use maintained or non-maintained emergency lighting.


Non-maintained emergency lighting is built into the buildings’ lighting system, designed to turn on instantly in the event of a power failure. This system is usually favoured by owners of the premises, with non-maintained fittings using less energy, as they only switch on in an emergency. This allows the owner of the premises to save on electricity bills.

This type of lighting is popular in workplaces, such as factories and offices, where people are more familiar with the escape routes.

A disadvantage of non-maintained emergency lighting is that the only way you can be sure the fitting is working correctly is through regular testing. Otherwise, you will be waiting until the actual event of a power cut before you realise whether they are working correctly. A way around this is to install self-testing emergency lights.


Maintained emergency lighting is designed so that the fittings will be lit continuously every day, and throughout a power failure. This allows pathways and emergency exits to be illuminated and clearly visible before and throughout a power cut, guiding people to a safe and speedy exit.

A benefit of maintained emergency fittings is that most of them come as switchable units. This means they can be switched between maintained and non-maintained. This can be very cost effective, as the electrician can set the mode to non-maintained when installing the light in areas where there is very little footfall and therefore do not require constant lighting. Popular in stairwells etc.

Maintained emergency lighting tends to be popular in the likes of cinemas and theatres, as these areas are usually in darkness, so require a maintained emergency light to continuously illuminate emergency pathways and exits.

Emergency Lighting Test

After emergency lighting systems have been installed, it is important that they are maintained.

All emergency lighting systems should be tested monthly. This is a short functional test in accordance with British and Irish standards to check everything is functioning correctly. This monthly test is known as an emergency key switch test. When this key is switched, the power going to the emergency lights will be cut off. The emergency lighting should then light up immediately. You need to make sure the fittings are clearly visible and show no signs of damage or faults.

There is also an annual test required for emergency lighting systems, this should be a fully rated duration test to ensure that all fittings working correctly and produce the required amount of light in the event of an emergency. The emergency lights should provide a back up for at least 3 hours.

All results must be recorded for monthly and annual tests. If there are any faults, they must be fixed or replaced immediately.

Trained members of staff should be fit to carry out most routine emergency lighting tests, depending on the type of emergency system installed. As the tests get more complicated or there is doubt in the results, you are best to contact a qualified electrician to carry out the test. This can be often overlooked, but in the event of an emergency it will help save lives.

You can view our full emergency lighting range by clicking here. It consists of LED emergency lighting. LED technologies provide a strong light output against a low wattage, allowing the end user to save massively on energy costs.

Our range of emergency lighting includes:

· LED Emergency Exit Signs

· LED Emergency Recessed

· Running Man Emergency Legends

· LED Emergency Modules

· LED Emergency Bulkheads

· LED Emergency Twinspots

· Dinrail Test Unit

If you require further advice or help with designing your emergency lighting systems, please contact our lighting specialists via email at [email protected].