Emergency Lighting system – What is it, Installation, Servicing, How often?

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Emergency Lighting System

Emergency lighting systems are used when the main power supply fails either due to a power cut or as a result of a fire.

An abrupt loss of power could lead to sudden darkness which could be extremely dangerous for the occupants and may lead to panic and chaos.

To prevent this from happening, emergency lighting is used as they automatically turn on in such situations and illuminate the area to provide the occupants with a safe way to evacuate the building.

Read on to find out what emergency lighting systems are, how they are installed, how often they need to be serviced, and much more:


As the name suggests, an emergency lighting system is a type of lighting system used to provide illumination in an emergency. The emergency could be due to a number of reasons, such as a power cut or a fire.

As is obvious, sudden and complete darkness does not only create panic but can also be extremely dangerous and life-threatening in certain situations.

The main purpose of these lights is to serve as a backup light source when the primary one fails and prevent the building from being left in complete darkness.

Emergency lighting is a requirement for properties where the public has access to the building and where people are employed.

Properties that do not require emergency lighting include individual houses and privately occupied flats within larger residential blocks.

Properties that would generally need emergency lighting include:

  • Offices
  • Shops
  • Factories
  • Warehouses
  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Residential blocks and flats
  • Railways stations
  • Airport terminals
  • Car parks
  • Leisure centres
  • Theatres
  • Shopping centres
  • Places of worship

Since emergency lighting concerns the safety of the public, it is heavily regulated by law and standards that define when and where it is required, the level of illumination it must provide, and how often it should be serviced and maintained.


There are four different types of emergency lighting that include:

  • Escape route lighting: this is an exit route lighting used to illuminate fire escapes and emergency exits to help occupants of a building evacuate safely.
  • Open area emergency lighting: also called “anti-panic” lighting, this type of lighting is installed in open areas to provide adequate light for a safe escape during an emergency or fire.
  • High-risk task area lighting: this type of lighting is installed in areas that are a host to extremely high-risk tasks, such as operating machinery, and are kept illuminated long enough for the workers to stop working, switch off the machinery, put down the tools, and evacuate safely.
  • Standby lighting: this type of lighting is automatically switched on when the power goes out, but unlike the other types, it is not required under the law. It is usually powered by a diesel generator and keeps the lights on until the mains power is restored.


Emergency lighting can be powered by one of two things: a single point or self-contained power source or a central battery source.

The advantages of a single point or self-contained power source include:

  • Faster and cheaper to install
  • No additional emergency lighting wiring or hardware needed
  • Lights automatically triggered in case of failure of the mains supply due to a cable burn-through
  • Low maintenance
  • Low hardware equipment costs
  • Greater integrity as each light is independent
  • Easily expandable system
  • No special sub-circuit monitoring needed

The disadvantages of a single point or self-contained power source include:

  • Limited battery life
  • Susceptible to environmental conditions
  • Testing requires isolation and observation on an individual basis

The advantages of a central battery source include:

  • Easier maintenance and routine testing
  • Better battery life
  • Environmentally stable in a controlled environment
  • Large batteries that are cheaper per unit of power
  • Less expensive lights

The disadvantages of a central battery source include:

  • Quite expensive to set up
  • Poor system integrity – a large part of the system can be disabled due to a battery or wiring failure
  • Requirement for “battery room”
  • Localised mains failure may not trigger the system’s operation
  • Voltage issue in the emergency lights wired furthest away from the central battery


The mode of operation of emergency lighting systems can be classified into two categories: maintained and non-maintained:

Maintained emergency lighting

Maintained emergency lights are powered by the mains supply and always remain on. They are typically a part of the property’s normal lighting system but continue to stay on during emergencies such as a power cut.

In such instances, these lights get their power through a backup battery that determines how long they will stay on.

They are usually installed in commercial buildings such as shopping centres. In public places and buildings such as bars and cinemas, where the normal lights are often dim, these maintained lights are mandatory.

Types of maintained emergency lighting include fire exit signs and recessed downlights. Most property owners prefer opting for LED lights to reduce their running costs and save energy as they are more energy-efficient than other lighting options.

Typical examples of maintained emergency lights include LED panels, LED downlight conversions, and exit signs.

Non-maintained emergency lighting

Non-maintained lights are powered by batteries, which are in turn charged by power coming from the mains supply.

These lights come on for a certain time period when the supply to the building’s normal lighting is disrupted. The batteries normally have a charge sufficient enough to keep the lights on for 3 hours or more in case of a power failure.

You can find non-maintained emergency lighting in buildings that are normally well-lit when occupied, such as office buildings. Typical examples of non-maintained emergency lights include LED bulkheads and LED twinspots.


When you enter an office, shop, cinema, or restaurant, you may have noticed very visible emergency lighting systems installed around the exits of the building. Have you ever wondered why they are there and what makes them so important?

According to the British Standard 5266-1, it is mandatory to install emergency lighting in offices, schools, hospitals, and several other commercial and public properties.

Here are all the reasons why emergency lighting systems are so important:

Life safety

The biggest advantage of having emergency lighting in place is to help the occupants evacuate the building safely in case of an emergency that could be life-threatening, such as a fire.

Minimise panic

Sudden and complete darkness can create an immense amount of panic among the occupants, especially when coupled with a safety emergency such as a fire. A well-lit exit route will help identify the proper route for a timely and safe exit.

Help first responders

First responders may not be familiar with the layout of the building and emergency lighting will help them reach inside and do their job safely.


It is a requirement under the current health and safety standards in the UK that every workplace and relevant building must have emergency lighting in place to make sure the occupants can evacuate safely in case of an emergency.


The British Standard BS 5266-1 provides the requirements for installing emergency lighting systems in buildings such as offices, schools, colleges, hospitals, nursing homes, hotels, shops, museums, and other multi-storey buildings.

These standards provide detailed guidance on the application and practice of emergency lighting that include:

  • Design and installation
  • Minimum duration
  • Response times
  • Design
  • Installation and wiring
  • Ratio of illuminance, glare, and colour
  • Commissioning and testing
  • Servicing and maintenance

According to The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all emergency routes and exits must be indicated by signs and the required illumination must be provided with emergency lighting systems with adequate intensity.

The responsibility for conforming to the requirements lies on the “responsible person” who, in a workplace, could be the employer or anyone who has control over the building.

A few of the requirements that the “responsible person” has to adhere to include:

  • Well-positioned and well-lit emergency lighting to allow the occupants to safely exit a building in case of a power cut.
  • Emergency exit with well-lit and clear signage indicating the routes for safe evacuation.
  • Illuminated directional signs to guide to the nearest emergency exits in cases where they are not directly visible.
  • Well-illuminated direction changes leading to an emergency exit door.
  • One hour minimum duration for the emergency lights to stay on once the power fails.
  • Three hours minimum duration for the emergency lights to stay on once the power fails for buildings that aren’t evacuated immediately or will be reoccupied once the power supply is restored.
  • Installing emergency lights within 2 metres of all exit doors, high-risk areas, fire alarm call points, first-aid equipment, electrical distribution boards, fire alarm panels, and fire extinguishers.

The consequences of not adhering to the emergency lighting system laws and regulations can range from heavy fines to businesses being forcibly shut down and prison sentences.


When it comes to emergency lighting installation, positioning plays a crucial role since placing the lights incorrectly could put the occupants of the building at some serious risk.

The lights should be placed in a way that they effectively serve their purpose and illuminate the exits and escape routes in the building.

According to the regulations, building owners must use illuminated signs in place of emergency lights if the emergency exit isn’t easily identifiable by the occupants.

The escape route areas where emergency lighting must be placed include:

  • Every exit door
  • Non-illuminated exit signs
  • Outside final exits
  • Stairs
  • Any change of direction
  • Near first-aid points
  • Any change in floor level
  • Corridor intersections
  • Near fire-fighting equipment
  • Manual call points

The non-escape route areas where emergency lighting must be placed include:

  • Kitchen
  • Toilets
  • First-aid rooms
  • Elevators
  • Escalators
  • Reception area
  • Near safety signs
  • Pedestrian routes in covered car parks
  • Control rooms
  • Areas of refuge

According to the British Standards 5266, emergency lights must be installed at floor level along an escape route with their brightness not less than 1 lux.

For panic areas, the brightness must be 0.5 lux in order to exclude a 0.5-metre border around the escape route.

Escape routes that are around 2-metres wide should be well-lit to a minimum of 1 lux on 50% of the route’s width. Wider routes may also be treated as multiple 2-metre-wide bands.

The amount of illumination must be determined by the type of building, the occupants in it, and how certain areas and rooms are used. Special attention must be given to crowded places such as supermarkets, hospitals, and pubs.


According to the emergency lighting regulations, you are not only required to install emergency lighting but must also follow a servicing schedule to ensure that the system works properly and can be relied upon in case of a power cut.

As a responsible person in your building, you may either conduct a manual test or an automatic test:

Manual testing

Manual testing refers to a simulated mains failure that is done by physically cutting off the mains supply to see if the emergency lighting system is working as it should.

In a system with a single switch for the entire building or a large part of it, after simulating the power failure, it is required for the tester to walk around the whole building to check all the emergency lighting points.

After restoring the power supply, the tester must walk around the whole building once again to check if the lights are recharging or not.

If the emergency lights are switched off individually, only a single walk around the building will be needed.

Automatic testing

Automatic tests are not as disruptive and time-consuming as manual tests and different formats are available to match the requirements for different types of buildings.


Emergency lighting can be serviced and tested daily, monthly, and yearly.

Daily servicing includes visually inspecting the power supply indicators to make sure the emergency lighting system is fully functional. These tests, however, apply only to systems powered by a central battery.

The British Standards 5266 dictate that all the emergency lighting systems must be tested at least once a month. Monthly tests are usually quick “flick” tests performed to check if the emergency light switches work.

Annual tests are more thorough and are done to check if the emergency lights remain on for the duration specified by the British Standards. At the end of these tests, all lights must continue to function as they should. Those that don’t must be immediately replaced.

To determine the best time to perform these tests, there are a few things you must keep in mind that include:

  • The risk factor. Try to schedule the tests outside of normal work hours so that the batteries have enough time to recharge after the tests are complete.
  • The effectiveness of the tests. Avoid conducting the tests in broad daylight as it may not be the best time to gauge the efficacy of the system.
  • Pick a time suitable for your company or facility. Consider testing at the same time as your fire alarm system maintenance.


We have been providing electrical services to residential, commercial, and industrial properties for over 40 years and are specialists in all aspects of electrical installations, maintenance, and testing.

We are NICEIC registered, follow the current wiring regulations, and have experienced and fully qualified electrical engineers on hand to deliver a professional and high-quality service that includes emergency lighting installation and servicing.

We can help in all aspects of commercial electrical installations and offer a wide range of services to help achieve whatever your commercial property may need, whether it is to design and plan a new install or add in extra data and socket points.

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Contact us here or call us on 0800 612 3001 for more information on emergency lighting systems and our other services!

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