Handy advice for duty holders and responsible persons.

Emergency lighting should be a consideration for most when reviewing the fire strategy of a building.  However, although you may be familiar with the need for emergency lighting, it is important to recap the key points as there has been an update to the British Standard BS 5266.

When it comes to emergency lighting, everyone’s attention has been focused by the need to prepare written risk assessments as per fire safety legislation (the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005). The ‘responsible person’ (usually the employer of a business) needs to have the financial responsibility to make the necessary changes to service, maintain, and upgrade a compliant emergency lighting system. 

In 2016, BS 5266 (the British Standard for emergency lighting) was revised to bring it more closely in line with the European Standard, EN 1838. EN 1838 refers to the European light levels that are used – the British version is more of a ‘local’ version.  The key point to remember here is that standards are absolutely vital and have been developed by a range of experts in order to ensure best practice.  And although standards are not laws in and of themselves, they are viewed as best practice and compliance with the standards could well be deemed to be compliance with the law on fire safety, due to the emphasis that has been placed on fire risk assessments within legislation.

It is important to carry out sufficient audits within individual buildings and make certain that every risk has been fully evaluated and appropriate measures have been recommended alongside each risk. There is such a strong duty of care on that responsible person to firstly employ competent persons, and secondly to ensure that those persons have the skills, knowledge, and aptitude to be able to carry out the task.  This should be checked by asking to see any proof of third party certification, or proof of FIA membership, as all FIA members have been independently audited and verified as having third party certification.
Those certified emergency lighting engineers should be able to advise the responsible person about how best to manage a compliant system.  

Due to the update of BS 5266 there is now a new category of emergency lighting called ‘emergency safety lighting’. This new category was created after there were questions over what would happen in an emergency situation where the main electrical supply failed should you choose to remain in the premises during that emergency period (or for assistance during evacuation). In this instance, the emergency lights will turn on and remain on even if the mains fail due to battery backup.

However, batteries do not last forever and there is a range of different light levels that emergency lighting can provide, so it is important to assess your own premises and the activities within to decipher the appropriate light levels and how long you might need that light level for.  For example, a school chemistry lab filled with 30 students using Bunsen burners and potentially explosive chemicals may need a higher light level than a regular office environment due to the obvious risks present.  The responsible person would also need to decide how long the students in the chemistry lab would need the emergency lighting for – which may well be a very different amount of time to the regular office space.

It is important to remember that every environment is different due to the building and those within it – so the amount of time needed for the emergency lighting may be more than we currently legislate for, which is 3 hours.

Due to the fact that emergency safety lighting runs on battery power, it is absolutely vital that the system is appropriately tested, and an automatic testing system might be a solution to this.  Due to the emergency nature of the lighting, the system needs to be always available and ready to use in case of a failure, and the standard strongly recommends adding an automatic testing system in order to ensure that the system is fully operational at all times.

The FIA has more advice and guidance on this topic available on the website under the ‘Resources’ section, where you can download a range of helpful guides free of charge.