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Emergency lighting questions to ask to ensure your emergency lighting system is compliant and fit for purpose

In this guide we will cover the essential information that facilities teams, building owners, and responsible persons, need to ask for when it comes to the safe and compliant installation of Emergency Lighting. The questions listed below are not an exhaustive list but cover off some of the important aspects that electrical engineers, fire systems installers, designer and building contractors should be aware of to complete a safe and compliant life safety installation.

What is emergency lighting and where is it required?

Emergency lighting is lighting that automatically comes into operation when the mains power supply to the normal lighting fails, for example during a power cut or when a lighting circuit breaker has tripped.

This specialist lighting is required wherever the public has access to a building or where people are employed. The list is extensive and includes premises such as shops, restaurants, offices, factories and warehouses, educational and healthcare buildings, all communal areas of residential blocks for example stair wells, corridors and shared facilities, travel hubs such as railway stations, ferry ports and airport terminals, multistorey carparks, leisure centres, pubs, theatres and even places of worship.

Normally, a private dwelling within a house of multiple occupancy or an individual home where the general public don’t have access, emergency lighting is not required.

corridor with exit sign

What are the different types of emergency lighting?

Emergency Lighting Questions Blog Pic2

There are several types of emergency lighting and the way in which they are operated also differs as follows:


  • Maintained luminaires have a lamp/s which may operate in both mains healthy and emergency lighting conditions. They may be lit permanently or switched on/off (switch maintained). If a lamp is switched off, it will automatically come on in emergency mode

  • Non-maintained luminaires only come on in the event of a power failure as an emergency light source. The continual mains supply is used to charge the battery

  • Central battery systems are where the batteries for emergency lighting are situated at one or more remote locations in a building, supplying all applicable luminaires in the event of a power failure, whether they are maintained or non-maintained. All emergency luminaires will have a charge healthy LED indicator, which shows that the battery is being charged while there is a mains feed. When the power fails, the LED will switch off and the lamp will be illuminated by the battery. The remote batteries traditionally have a longer design life, 10 years. One of the biggest advantages of centralised systems are ease of access. Standalone luminaires can sometimes be found in hard in to reach locations so battery changing would be expensive requiring specialist equipment e.g., scaffolding in high level areas

  • Stand Alone Luminaires are dedicated emergency lighting, with integral batteries, which can be maintained or non-maintained. The latest designs using LED sources have light distributions to suit specific applications; escape route versions provide a long linear distribution whereas anti-panic versions have a symmetrical distribution and cover a wide area

  • Combined Luminaire This is luminaire which contains 2 or more sets of lamps, at least one of which is powered from the Emergency Lighting supply and the other(s) from the normal mains power supply. A combined emergency lighting luminaire can be either Maintained or Non-Maintained

  • Sustained emergency lighting is where a lamp which is separate to the main lamp provides the emergency light source. This minimises any possibility of emergency lamp failure, as the ‘sustained’ lamp is only used in emergency mode, it will be non-maintained

  • Exit Signage: The escape routes from a building must be clearly and unambiguously defined. This is best achieved by self-illuminated luminaires. These must be compliant to relevant standards in size, colour and luminous intensity, with appropriate and current symbols; commonly known as running man signs

  • Non illuminated signs are commonly used as they are cheaper, but they should also be illuminated to specified levels which is all too often overlooked making them non-compliant and difficult to see when the mains light has failed.

What are the regulations surrounding emergency lighting?

Anything to do with the safety of the public, or employees, is generally heavily regulated. There are laws, regulations and standards in place to define where emergency lighting is required, how it should be installed, maintained and tested. This ensures that lighting levels at key points in the design of the system are at compliant levels.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order (RRFSO) 2005 charges the Responsible Person (or Duty Holder in Scotland and Appropriate Person in Northern Ireland) in control of non-domestic premises and the common areas of a House in Multiple Occupancy (HMO) with the safety of everyone in the building. Everyone means anyone who is either working, visiting or living there. This duty of care includes the provision of emergency lighting. Article 14 (2) (h) of the RRFSO states:

"Emergency routes and exits requiring illumination must be provided with emergency lighting of adequate intensity in the case of failure of their normal lighting".

There is also the British Standard BS 5266 which covered design, testing, reporting and maintenance of Emergency Lighting, ensuring that once installed the devices and system is not forgotten about.

Emergency Lighting is an essential component to the fire safety provision of a building and must not be ignored, therefor it is imperative that if you are the person who is responsible for the safety of the people using your building, you work with specialists who are trusted experts in this field and can design and install emergency lighting products which are compliant and fit for purpose.

How has emergency lighting legislation changed since the release of the publication of the Hackitt report?

As part of the Government's response to the Grenfell fire tragedy, Dame Judith Hackitt was commissioned to undertake an independent review of Building Regulations and in particular their impact on Fire Safety. In 2018, a year on from the tragedy, Dame Judith published her final report, the Building a Safer Future report.

The report was written following an independent review of the Grenfell tragedy and has been labelled as the next “key step in an extensive overhaul to building safety legislation” by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

The report’s overarching theme was that building safety and regulation in the UK was far below standard and needed urgent updates to ensure there is never a tragedy like Grenfell ever again. The report signalled big and widespread changes that would impact on both the construction and ongoing management of residential building blocks.

Following the release of the Hackitt report, the Building Safety Act was then implemented and granted Royal Assent on 28 April 2022, thus becoming law. The Act made ground-breaking reforms to give residents and homeowners more rights, powers, and protections – so that homes across the country are safer. It delivers far-reaching protections for qualifying leaseholders from the costs associated with remediating historical building safety defects, and an ambitious toolkit of measures that will allow those responsible for building safety defects to be held to account, with new criminal offences for the worst offenders, fines and up to 2 years in prison.

To tackle the issue of ‘shirking responsibility’, the Act reforms the Fire Safety Order and makes it clearer for residents who to go-to for any fire safety concerns, including sub-par emergency lighting systems. This responsible person will also be required to keep updated fire safety information for residents.

As Grenfell tragically demonstrated fire safety in the UK was dangerously below acceptable standards, and information on compliance testing and the competency of those carrying it out wasn’t always clear and transmissible. It overhauls existing regulations, creating lasting change and makes clear how residential buildings should be constructed, maintained and made safe.

What should my emergency lighting specialists consider when designing and installing new systems?

When it comes to new emergency lighting systems the company you employ to design, install, test and maintain your emergency lighting levels should consider how modern technology alongside human intervention will play its part. For example, you may have had a ‘self-testing’ system installed, but this doesn’t equal “fit and forget”. There is still the requirement for real people to check reports and then any remedial work required is actioned. There is also the requirement for monthly functionality testing, and annual battery duration (three hours in most cases) tests by law.

It’s also recommended that the company you employ use design software to prove light levels are compliant and to provide documentation to prove compliance. This is of particular interest at high-risk areas and points of emphasis so that the positioning of emergency lighting provides the correct levels of illuminance, for example, across call points (five lux minimum).

To achieve a successful and compliant emergency lighting design and installation, building designers, installers, electrical engineers and contractors need to work together. The onus is on everyone in the chain to ensure this happens and goes right back to the tender stage; emergency lighting designers should have access to the fire design to cover all points of emphasis etc. helping to create a compliant scheme.

What qualifications should the person or company responsible for the design and/or installation of my emergency lighting system hold?

Believe it or not, there isn’t an industry recognised qualification specific to emergency lighting. However, as highlighted above there are strict rules and regulations that the system will need to adhere to.

There are several official bodies working together to solve this issue and to potentially create formalised training with a recognised qualification at the end of it, removing the ‘cowboy’ element. Until then, facilities managers, building owners, landlords and tenants need to seek out competent, qualified design teams and installers to ensure design compliance is met with approved equipment installed.

Is it possible to save money with the correct choice of emergency lighting?

In our homes, most of us now use energy efficient lighting helping to lower electricity bills and carbon dioxide emissions, all without reducing the quality of light in our homes. Within business many companies have also switched to energy efficient light sources to light rooms and corridors, but there are many who still haven’t updated emergency lighting. There are big savings that can be made to running costs as well as Carbon Footprint reductions when switching to a more efficient system, this is because older emergency lighting uses bigger and more expensive batteries using more materials such as Lithium, Nickel, Cadmium etc. Older light sources also have a far shorter life expectancy, increasing the risk of failures in the system and maintenance costs as well as reducing safety.

The power consumed by emergency lighting is deemed parasitic. This is the power consumed by the device whilst the Emergency lighting is in a non-operational or standby mode. In emergency language this would be a non-maintained emergency luminaire that functions in the event of a mains failure. The system and luminaires are connected to the mains and will continue to draw power to maintain sufficient charge in the batteries for three-hour discharge duration.

What are the benefits of emergency lighting systems with automatic testing?

Using automatic testing systems for emergency lighting provides can provide lots of benefits with the most obvious being less maintenance tasks. It also creates a lower overall cost of ownership, i.e., the long-term costs and expenses incurred during the product's useful life and ultimate disposal are a lower total and therefor offer better value in the long run.

Emergency lighting automatic test systems can generate a full report detailing the state of each individual luminaire which is recorded and can be accesses via software. The condition of the battery and light source functionality are tested as well. This whole process happens automatically and without any human intervention. However, as mentioned earlier, it comes to interpreting the results of a report, a competent person still needs to validate the results and act if necessary. These actions combined provide peace of mind that the installation is safe and is compliant.

What does the future of emergency lighting look like and how might my building benefit?

Today customers are demanding a more personalised and instant experience, so it makes sense for companies (of any size) to harness the power of next generation technology to become leaner, more agile and in some cases safer. Life safety manufacturers and system’s designers are utilising the power of the cloud to enhance their emergency lighting offering to the industry and enable instant access to critical data, particularly in an emergency.

A networked lighting system which allows for cloud reporting means building management teams can remotely monitor performance and safety alongside other building systems 24/7. Messages in real-time via mobile text messages or email can also be sent to the responsible person, meaning engineers can fix some minor problems remotely without even needing to travel to site, or without having someone who may not know what they are looking at relaying the information over the phone. The biggest benefits here are a reduction in site visit costs and human error.


Schedules of maintenance can also be organised via the cloud, where the system monitors the lifecycle of different devices within a networked lighting system. This creates a more proactive approach allowing repairs to happen before any potential malfunctions occur.


Another benefit of cloud-based emergency lighting technology is that it is easily scalable and flexible to the unique circumstances of the building or buildings in which it resides. This is perfect for educational settings, healthcare, high-rise, mixed use commercial or industrial applications where multiple sites can be monitored from a central location – all of which can be catered for via the cloud.

These are just some of the questions that need to be asked when implementing a new emergency lighting system into buildings. It is important to understand the unique circumstances of the building you are responsible for and ensure that the emergency lighting system meets all legislative requirements and is fit for purpose. It is also important to vet the companies you choose to work with to ensure they have the relevant experience as well as work with products that are from reputable and trusted manufacturers.