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Emergency Lighting Requirements

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emergency lighting requirements

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Spirit offers a complete LED lighting upgrade for large commercial clients (100+ light fixtures), including a like-for-like upgrade of emergency lighting. This service comes at no upfront cost to the client and is paid off through a proportion of 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:

What is emergency lighting?

Emergency lighting is lighting which operates in the event of a mains power failure. As a minimum, emergency lighting must include emergency escape lighting, the purpose of which is to prevent panic and allow safe passage out of the building, particularly in the case of a genuine emergency situation such as fire.

However, emergency lighting may also be designed to allow the occupants of the building to ‘stay put’, for example in the event that mains power fails, but there is no emergency requiring evacuation. The procedures in place during the operation of this ‘stay put’ strategy will depend on levels of daylighting and whether the emergency lighting is provided as full standby lighting or only as emergency safety lighting.

Regulatory framework

The main guidance document covering Emergency Lighting is BS 5266-1:2016, Emergency Lighting – Part 1: Code of practice for the emergency lighting of premises

There are two supporting ‘system standards’:

  • BS EN 1838:2013 Lighting applications – Emergency lighting, which specifies the illumination to be provided by emergency lighting (including illuminance, duration and colour);
  • BS EN 50172: 2004 Emergency escape lighting systems, specifying the minimum provision and testing for different premises.

There are also three supporting ‘product standards’:

  • BS EN 60598-2-22:2014 Luminaires for emergency lighting, which sets out the specifications required for emergency luminaires;
  • BS EN 62034:2012 Automatic test systems for battery powered emergency escape lighting;
  • BS EN 50181:2001 Central power supply systems.

The main standards to review are BS5266 and BS EN60598, as well as  BS 5499-10:2014 Guidance for the selection and use of safety signs and fire safety notices.

Who is responsible for emergency lighting?

UK legislation imposes a duty on persons, including employers and other persons with control of premises, to carry out risk assessments and to take such precautions as to ensure as far as reasonably practicable the safety of the occupants.

These measures include the provision of safe means of escape, including emergency escape routes and exits, together with compliant signage. Sufficient emergency lighting needs to be provided where people are particularly exposed to danger (e.g. in an operating theatre, or using hazardous machinery etc).

Every building should have a responsible person – a delegated individual who is responsible for the provision and operation of appropriate emergency lighting. Note that this may or may not be the same ‘responsible person’ for fire safety, as defined in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

Key terms

Here are a few of the main terms relevant to emergency lighting design:

  • emergency escape lighting: that part of emergency lighting that provides illumination for the safety of people leaving a location or attempting to terminate a potentially dangerous process before doing so (also provides lighting for location and use of fire fighting equipment, safety equipment);
  • emergency lighting: lighting provided for use when the supply to the normal lighting fails;
  • emergency safety lighting: that part of emergency lighting that provides illumination for the safety of people staying in a premises when the supply to the normal lighting fails;
  • escape route: route designated for escape to a place of safety in the event of an emergency;
  • final exit: terminal point of an escape route;
  • high risk task area lighting: that part of emergency escape lighting that provides illumination for the safety of people involved in a potentially dangerous process or situation and to enable proper shut-down procedures for the safety of the operator and other occupants of the premises;
  • open area lighting: that part of emergency escape lighting provided to avoid panic and provide illumination allowing people to reach a place where an escape route can be identified;
  • standby lighting: that part of emergency lighting provided to enable normal activities to continue substantially unchanged.

Types of emergency lighting

Emergency lighting is provided by light fittings (luminaires). There are three types, as follows:

  • maintained emergency luminaire: this is a luminaire in which the emergency illumination is provided by a lamp that also operates in ‘normal’ lighting mode;
  • non-maintained luminaire: a luminaire which is not lit when the normal mains supply is working, but comes on after mains failure, powered by the emergency supply (battery);
  • combined luminaire: this is a luminaire with more than one lamp, where the lamp which provides the emergency light is NOT one of those providing ‘normal’ light. Effectively, the emergency lamp is non-maintained, but in the same enclosure as the other lamps.

Maintained emergency luminaires are a popular choice with many specifiers because they make the emergency part of a lighting installation practically invisible. Usually the emergency running gear (module and battery) is hidden inside the luminaire enclosure, or in a remote gear box concealed in a false ceiling void. The drawback is that the lamps are in constant use and must be monitored and replaced.

Note that some emergency lights also serve as internally illuminated safety signs to mark exits and exit routes.  Most people will be familiar with the green ‘EXIT’ non-maintained emergency luminaires commonly seen above doorways. These can also be operated in maintained mode. Non-maintained luminaires have lower running costs and last longer as they are rarely in use. 

Additional functionality can be included such as a rest mode allowing emergency lights to be switched off during failure of the normal lighting supply to preserve battery power for an emergency evacuation.

High risk task lighting is emergency lighting designed for high risk task areas; it has a faster response time than standard emergency lighting.


Duration refers to the period of time for which the emergency lights will operate once triggered.

The required duration will depend on the time required to evacuate the premises, on the size and complexity of the premises, and whether they are to be evacuated immediately on supply failure and whether they will be reoccupied immediately once the supply is restored.

There are recommended minimums, with the absolute minimum duration being one hour. A minimum duration of three hours should be used for emergency lighting if premises are not expected to be evacuated immediately in the event of a supply failure, such as sleeping accommodation, or places of entertainment, or if the premises are expected to be reoccupied when the supply is restored without waiting for the batteries to recharge. A minimum duration of one hour should only be used if the premises are expected to be evacuated immediately on supply failure and not reoccupied until full capacity has been restored to the batteries.

Most systems have a three hour duration.

Powering emergency lighting

There are two ways of powering emergency light fittings:

  • individually, whereby each fitting is self-contained with its own battery pack which is charged by the mains during normal operation, sufficient to power the fitting for the required duration during emergency conditions;
  • via a central power source (battery or generator).


The advantages of self-contained fittings are as follows:

  • the installation is faster and cheaper;
  • standard wiring material can be used, no need for battery ventilation etc;
  • low maintenance costs – periodic test and general cleaning only required;
  • higher system integrity as each fitting is independent;
  • easy to extend.

The disadvantages are as follows:

  • battery life is limited to between two and four years,
  • testing requires islation and observation of luminaires on an individual basis.

Central power source

Centrally powered systems have the following advantages:

  • maintenance and routine testing is easier since all emergency luminaires can be tested centrally;
  • the battery can last between 5 and 25 years;
  • large batteries are cheaper per unit of power and luminaires are usually less expensive (although the upfront wiring and installation cost is likely to be high).

The disadvantages are as follows:

  • high initial installation costs, with much more wiring using fire resistant cable to each fitting;
  • lower system integrity – failure of battery or wiring circuit can disable a large part of the system;
  • there is a requirement for a ‘battery room’, often ventilated, to house cells and charger circuits;
  • localised mains failure may not trigger operation of emergency lighting in that area;
  • voltage drop on the luminaire wired furthest from the central battery could become a problem.

In general, centrally powered systems are installed on larger projects where low maintenance and longevity are priorities and the higher system cost can be absorbed by the overall project budget. Small and medium sized commercial premises usually use a combination of maintained and non-maintained self-contained luminaires.

Testing emergency lighting

Emergency lighting should be tested every month, with an annual ‘duration’ test to prove that the lighting can perform for the required duration (typically three hours).

Tests should be recorded in a log book. More details are set out on our dedicated emergency light testing page.  It is important that testing is considered at the design stage, to ensure testing does not become more onerous than it needs to be.