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What is Emergency Lighting?

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Emergency Lighting

A breakdown of everything you need to know about Emergency Lighting from the Hilclare Lighting Specialists


What is Emergency Lighting?
Why do I need Emergency Lighting?
Where do I need to install emergency lighting?
How Does Emergency Lighting Work?
What is the Difference Between Maintained and Non-Maintained Emergency Lighting?
What are my options?
What technology impacts my emergency lighting system?
Do I need to conduct Emergency Light Testing?
What are the Emergency Lighting Regulations?

What is Emergency Lighting?

An emergency light is a luminaire that either switches on automatically when there is a power outage (known as non-maintained or standby lighting) or operates constantly as emergency escape lighting (maintained lighting). The lights consist of one or more LEDs with a battery power back-up to provide illumination in the case of mains power supply failure. Modern fittings also have a testing capability which allows the unit to temporarily operate from battery power when the main power is still on.

Why do I need Emergency Lighting?

The use of emergency lighting installation is to ensure that lighting is provided rapidly, automatically and for a suitable time in a specific area when normal power supply to the lighting fails. The primary purpose of the installation is:

  • Ensure escape routes can be safely identified and effectively used
  • Activities in hazardous workplaces can be terminated safely
  • Emergency actions can be safely carried out in the workplace
Where do I need to install emergency lighting?

Emergency lighting is an essential part of building services installation. Many buildings have legal requirements stipulated for emergency lighting to be installed so that in the event of a lighting blackout sufficient light is provided to guide people out of the building whilst navigating around any obstacles. Areas that require emergency lighting include:

  • Changes in direction
  • Stairways
  • Steps & ramps
  • Fire & first aid points
  • Exit doors (internal and external)
  • Escalators
  • Lifts
  • Toilets
  • Generators
  • Large open areas

How Does Emergency Lighting Work?

Emergency lighting is wired to the building’s power supply for continuous charging of batteries to provide back-up power for the lighting. These batteries can be internal in each luminaire or part of a central battery back-up system.  This ensures that emergency fittings remain alight during a power outage, allowing occupants to easily locate the exits should they need to evacuate the building.

Emergency luminaires typically operate on a low voltage which reduces the size of the batteries required and reduces the load on the circuit to which the emergency light is wired. Light output for emergency luminaires is measured in Lumens. Lumens is the standard unit of measurement for the amount of light emitted from any given light.

In general terms, a higher lumen rating means greater visibility in the vicinity of the light fitting. Maintained emergency lights have a set lumen level when in standard operation, but often a lower lumen level when in emergency mode.

What is the Difference Between Maintained and Non-Maintained Emergency Lighting?


Maintained lights are always on and will continue to be operational in the event of power failure, and as such naturally use more power. If you are selecting an emergency light for an area that is open to the public, then maintained emergency lighting is typically installed.

Most maintained emergency lights can be used like a normal switchable light, giving you the flexibility to use it as you would any other light. A switchable emergency light will still come on in the event of a power failure even if it is switched off at the light switch as it will automatically take power from the back-up battery.


Non-maintained emergency lighting is a luminaire made solely for emergency use which turns on automatically should there be a mains power failure. The light uses the battery back-up to make sure all emergency exit routes are clearly illuminated, but it will not be active as your normal day-to-day lighting system. Non-maintained emergency lighting is acceptable in situations where the occupants of the building can be expected to be familiar with their surroundings, for example in workplaces such as offices.

What are my options?

There are several options for mounting the emergency light fittings, which is usually fully or partially mounted before the fitting is wired into the circuit.

What technology impacts my emergency lighting system?

Standard 3 Hour

The standard 3-hour emergency luminaire is a self-contained emergency light (the battery is inside the fitting) which requires a local test circuit to simulate a power failure. According to the BS 5266 regulations, emergency lighting must be able to operate for a minimum duration of 3 hours to provide for situations where the premises may not evacuated immediately, for example with sleeping accommodation, or if the premises will be reoccupied immediately after the supply is restored without waiting for the batteries to be recharged.

This is the most competitive solution to an emergency lighting scheme. The fitting includes an LED status indicator for you to monitor the health of the luminaire

Dali/self test

Automatic test systems for battery powered emergency escape lighting covers both self-contained stand-alone luminaires (Self-Test) and self-contained centrally monitored luminaires (DALI).

Self-Test fittings perform a self-commissioning test at first power on and are then performed in accordance with standard requirements.

DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface) is an intelligent addressable emergency lighting testing solution which allows remote monitoring of the luminaires to supervise and carry out tests from a central location. Checks can be carried out on a regular basis as is currently required under EN50172 legislation, with the added benefit of being able to be conducted during operation downtime to minimise disruption. This is not only more cost-effective in terms of avoiding interruption but also helps in managing maintenance costs.

Central Battery System

A Central Battery System for emergency lighting is a centrally provided back-up power source rather than each luminaire having a battery or super capacitor. This can be beneficial as there are less components to maintain and service, the replacement of the batteries can be done in one location and it also possible to centrally monitor the entire emergency lighting system.


Command Emergency Programmable System (COMEPS) is a DALI based automatic test system that allows the emergency lighting system to be tested on a determined regular basis. The COMEPS emergency system guarantees regular testing and reporting whilst also reducing maintenance costs.

The COMEPS system will not only automate your testing schedule but provide a detailed health status report of each luminaire and record test results for you to review remotely.


Do I need to conduct Emergency Light Testing?

According to the Fire Precautions Regulations 1997 & BS5266 part 1 for the workplace, building owners must have emergency luminaries in place and are also required to test the emergency lighting systems frequently and ensure their maintenance is in good working order.

Monthly emergency lighting test

You must test all emergency lighting systems each month and check they are clean and in working order. The test needs to be long enough to check that the lights are working properly, results must be recorded and any issues resolved promptly.

Annual emergency lighting test

Once a year, you must drain your emergency lights fully which involves leaving them on for their full battery life (this will typically be one to three hours, subject to the luminaire). The lights should stay on for that entire time. Results again must be recorded and any issues resolved. In modern fittings the luminaire can be tested without the need to switch off the main electricity supply but this may not be the case with older models.

What are the Emergency Lighting Regulations?

The Fire Industry Association provides guidance in the BS 5266 standards for emergency lighting along with The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 for the fire risk assessor and lighting designer to adhere to when developing an emergency lighting plan.

When selecting an emergency light fitting for your premises, it is crucial to consider the amount of light required in emergency mode when designing a system.

BS 5266 recommends the provision of horizontal illumination at floor level along the centre line of a defined escape route (permanently unobstructed) not less than 1 lux, and 0.5 lux for anti-panic areas, to exclude a 0.5m border around the route.

For escape routes of up to 2m wide, 50% of the route width should be lit to a minimum of 1 lux. Wider escape routes can be treated as a number of 2m wide bands.

The actual degree of illumination should be closely related to the nature of both the premises and its occupants, with special consideration being given to care homes for the elderly, hospitals, crowded venues such as pubs, nightclubs and supermarkets, and to whether or not the premises have overnight accommodation such as hotels.

The level of illumination in certain rooms and areas within a building will vary depending on their use; for full information, the BS 5266-1 should be reviewed.

To discuss a bespoke solution for your emergency light fitting requirements, contact our specialist lighting consultants here.