Emergency lighting: why quality is more vital than ever

By John Williams, Managing Director, NormaGrup Technology UK, the European manufacturer of emergency and mains lighting.

In a previous article, I suggested that few would argue against the installation of potentially life-saving evacuation systems in buildings where people live, congregate or work. What could be more alarming, I wrote, than having to leave a building quickly in total darkness without any indication of an exit route? In hospitals and care homes that prospect is even more horrifying.

In the aftermath of the terrible Grenfell Tower tragedy (pictured), these words carry even more weight.

Emergency lighting is just one of many things that will be considered in the wake of this unprecedented disaster.

What is not in dispute is that wholesalers must be vigilant about the products they stock, and how they should be applied to meet the highest safety standards and legal requirements.

Most reputable EL products and systems are manufactured to the highest standards of electronic reliability and can be programmed to meet the most demanding requirements for safety, security and convenience. But in what is bound to be a feverish post Grenfell climate, it is worth reminding readers off some of the basic issues around the specification and choice of EL.

An EL system should at all times provide the maximum assistance to those evacuating in the event of an incident that causes the failure of the mains lighting supply.

The key EL British Standard “Code of Practice for the emergency escape lighting of premises” is BS5266 Part 1: 2016. Also significant is BSEN 62034 Automatic Test systems for battery powered emergency escape lighting, which was revised in 2012.

The harmonised European Standard covering the testing of emergency lighting BSEN50172/BS-5266 Pt 8 requires functional testing at least monthly and for full rated duration testing to be carried out at least annually. Any faults that are found must be recorded, it is then for the person responsible to ensure the faults are rectified in a reasonable time period.

EL can be specified as either a complete system or piecemeal, where each light fitting stands alone. Alternatively, existing mains fittings can be “converted” to work when required in an emergency mode.

There are two main types of automatic testing equipment they are, stand-alone self-test emergency luminaries and automatic test systems (ATS).

To avoid manual recording, the more sophisticated ATS interconnects to a control panel where results are collected via data cabling. More complex systems allow programming of tests from the control panel, or through connection to a PC or App, on which visual installation representation can be displayed, including that of connected luminaries under test and those showing faults. Specifiers must then decide whether they want a DALI compatible system, which has the facility to control mains lighting as well as the emergency lighting or they wish to have a and a totally independent system.

With product knowledge must come familiarisation with one’s legal obligation – an area that is bound to become even more important. When selling emergency lighting it would be advisable to point out to your customers that whether they are the installer, facilities manager, or owner of the building, they should understand what their role – and therefore obligation – is, as far as emergency lighting is concerned.

The responsible person must ensure that the building’s emergency escape route lighting systems are periodically inspected, tested and properly maintained so that they work as intended when required and in compliance with regulations. Central system batteries must be regularly checked and maintained, and if vented batteries are used they must be topped up and vented.

Finally, I urge wholesalers to continually refresh their appreciation and knowledge of emergency lighting. Recent events will almost certainly galvanise safety standards organisations to revisit current documentation, and as changes or modifications will almost certainly follow, you must keep on top of them.

Reputable manufacturers, trade associations and professional bodies are keener than ever to impart their knowledge and experience. ICEL – the emergency lighting side of the Lighting Industry Association, is a particularly valuable source in this regard.

Unquestionably whilst the Grenfell enquiry is underway there will be a proliferation of off and online opinions, some confusing, often contradictory. Make sure that you have the right facts, and the products that are totally fit for purpose.