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Emergency Lighting Design Guide

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Spirit can provide commercial LED lighting upgrades (including emergency lighting) at no upfront cost - payment is taken from the bill savings over 5 years:

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Our free Emergency Lighting Guide gives a very good overview of emergency lighting. You may also wish to visit these pages on our website:

Design starts with consultation

The design of any building or system within a building should start with consultation between relevant parties. With a lighting installation or upgrade impacting emergency lighting, consultation generally takes place between the responsible person or, in the case of a new build, the developer, and the lighting designer and /or installation contractor. Where relevant, the architect or building control may also be involved.

Consultation should cover:

  • provision of building plans including escape routes, fire safety provision;
  • emergency lighting design risk assessment (if available) and fire risk assessment;
  • details of existing emergency lighting and log book where relevant;
  • the proposed duration for emergency lighting;
  • whether to use maintained or non-maintained fittings, or a combination of the two;
  • the proposed testing procedure for emergency lighting;
  • power provision (self-contained luminaires or centrally powered system);
  • strategy in the event of failure of the normal lighting – ‘stay-put’ or immediately evacuate, and, if stay-put, procedures to be followed towards the end of the emergency lighting duration and procedures to warn occupants if they need to evacuate;
  • other relevant factors such as high risk task areas.

Design considerations and compliance

The detailed design should include a design risk assessment and needs to cover as a minimum the parameters above as well as:

  • positioning of signage and luminaires to achieve regulatory compliance (BS 5266 lists the places where luminaires should be located, including for example at each exit door, near stairs so each tread receives light, near first aid and fire call points, near externally illuminated escape route signs, near fire fighting equipment, at changes of direction etc);
  • achieving minimum required lux levels in the ‘working plane’ or at floor level for escape routes and achieving the required illuminance on escape route signage;
  • illuminating areas specified as requiring illumination in BS 5266 (whether or not part of an escape route), or those identified as requiring illumination in the design risk assessment;
  • achieving the required response time, i.e. the maximum period which may elapse between failure of the normal supply and the switch-on of the emergency lighting.

Which areas require illumination?

BS 5266 sets out in detail how escape routes need to be illuminated. It also specifies other areas which need to be illuminated.

BS 5266 recommends that rooms should have emergency lighting if:

  • they are larger than 60m2;
  • they have an escape route passing through them (e.g. if they have an inner room); or
  • they have a hazard that is identified by the site risk assessment e.g. a kitchen.

Toilets with a floor area larger than 8m2 are considered to need emergency lighting.

Minimum lux levels for emergency lighting

BS 5266 gives a starting point for establishing the minimum lux levels for emergency lighting. Note that the commissioning certificate for emergency lighting needs to be accompanied by photometric design data, in one of the following formats, with appropriate maintenance de-rating factors to meet worst case requirements:

  • authenticated spacing data such as ICEL 1001 registered tables;
  • calculations as per BS 5266-1:2016, Annex D and CIBSE / SLL Guide L12;
  • print-out of results from an appropriate computer programme.

Illumination for evacuation must assist occupants in evacuation. This means it must:

  • enable them to locate / identify exit signs at doors and escape route direction signs;
  • enable them to use the escape routes;
  • enable them to conduct safety measures prior to evacuation - shutdown of equipment, checking all personnel have vacated.

BS 5266 recommends the provision of horizontal illumination at floor level along the centre line of a defined escape route up to 2 metres in width should be not less than 1 lux. Note that the previous minimum was 0.2 lux along the centre line of an escape routes, and therefore systems installed prior to 2016 may not comply.

Open areas with a floor area greater than 60m2 or those having been risk assessed as needing emergency lighting should be provided with horizontal illuminance of not less than 0.5 lux at the floor level of the area, excluding a border of 0.5m around the perimeter. The actual degree of illumination should take into account the nature of both the premises and its occupants.

BS 5266 also recommends minimum illumination in high risk areas as per the table below. Note that if the building is not going to be evacuated immediately, additional emergency lighting may be needed for rooms where occupants are able to stay put. The design risk assessment should establish the desired lighting level. For example if the occupants are going to operate the premises normally, standby lighting powered by an alternative power supply source, such as a generator, will probably be needed to provide adequate lighting conditions.

Response times

The response time depends upon:

  • whether panic could arise amongst a significant number of people, which in turn depends upon factors such as the type of building and the people themselves (age, knowledge, training, physical and mental conditions);
  • time taken to adapt to the new, normally much lower, illuminance provided by the emergency lighting.

A normal emergency response time is 50% of full output available within 5 secs, with 100% required within 60 seconds. In high risk task areas where the hazard is immediate, full emergency lighting must be available within 0.5 secs.

The table shows minimum recommended illuminances, response times and durations for specific areas:

Location Response time Minimum illuminance Minimum duration Reference plane
Kitchens 0.5 secs for full illuminance 15 lx 30 mins Horizontal working plane, switches and cut-outs readily visible
First aid rooms 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 15 lx 30 mins Horizontal working plane
Treatment rooms 0.5 secs for full illuminance 50 lx 30 mins Horizontal working plane
Refuges 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 5 lx Full duration of emergency lighting Horizontal floor, vertical wall-mounted communication devices and signs
Plant rooms, switch rooms, means of emergency operation for lifts 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 15 lx Full duration of emergency lighting In plane of visual task
Fire alarm control and indicating equipment 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 15 lx Full duration of emergency lighting In plane of visual task
Reception areas 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 15 lx Full duration of emergency lighting In plane of visual task
Panic bars and pads for security devices 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 5 lx Full duration of emergency lighting Horizontal plane of panic bar / pad; vertical at vertically mounted security devices

Centrally powered systems

Centrally powered systems have additional design considerations, set out in the relevant standards.

Cabling needs adequately to resist the effects of fire and mechanical damage, as set out in the standards. Cable fixings and support should be non-combustible such that they do not reduce circuit integrity below that afforded by the cable used. Clearly plastic cable ties and trunking cannot be used.

The wiring of emergency lighting installations needs to be exclusive to the installation and separate from the wiring of other circuits. Where cables for emergency lighting systems are installed in a common containment system, such as trunking or a cable tray, the cables should be segregated from each other by a suitably specified partition.

LED upgrades: considerations for emergency lighting

When an organisation upgrades its lighting to LED lighting, the emergency lighting is generally already in place.

Care needs to be taken not to compromise the efficacy of the existing system. At the same time an LED upgrade affords an opportunity to achieve compliance with the updated standard BS 5266 (updated in 2016). We see many systems that do not fully comply.

Maintained emergency luminaires are generally replaced on a like-for-like basis, whereas non-maintained lights are generally not replaced, since running costs are minimal.  There is also an opportunity to automate testing.

Spirit will check compliance and advise on any necessary upgrades.

Find out more in our free emergency lighting guide:

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