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Emergency lighting. Don’t fall foul of the law.

There a number of ways people responsible for emergency lighting could unwittingly transgress. Perhaps the most accidental of them all: emergency lighting can fall foul of regulations after facility remodelling. All too often changes to premises are made, walls are put up, doors are moved, and there’s no consideration at all about how the emergency lighting is affected by it. Current regulations require emergency lights (such as the familiar green ‘lunch box’ luminaires that indicate escape routes) be positioned in staircases and where corridors meet.

Another simple mistake: Allowing occupants into a building before recharging batteries after routine three-hour testing of emergency lights (the length of time regulations can require emergency lights to shine). Not recharging before reoccupation again is an issue because if you’ve got no emergency lighting on the premises you’re effectively breaking the law in doing that.

Failing to document a fire risk assessment that includes emergency lighting could also lead to legal trouble, as can failing to document things. It’s necessary to keep records of issues you have tested and certain bodies including fire authorities have the right to see those.

Emergency lights that once were compliant might no longer be, under shifting regulations. Recent emergency lighting violations in the UK have included the 18-month imprisonment of a Blackpool hotelier and a £200,000 fine for Tata Steel.

There are actually quite a lot of ways in which you can break the law with emergency lighting. Here are the five ‘headliners’:

  • Failing to do a risk assessment
  • Failing to comply with current standards for emergency lighting installations
  • Failing to comply with current standards for emergency lighting products
  • Failing to comply with current standards for emergency lighting testing
  • Failing to rearrange emergency lighting after a building refurbishment

Emergency Lighting Requirements

Because of the possibility of a failure of the normal lighting supply occurring shortly after a period of testing of the emergency lighting system or during the subsequent recharge period, all full duration tests shall, wherever possible, be undertaken just before a time of low risk to allow for battery recharge. Alternatively, suitable temporary arrangements shall be made until the batteries have been recharged.

The following minimum inspections and tests shall be carried out at the intervals recommended below. The regulating authority may require specific tests.

Daily emergency lighting inspection (only for central backup systems)

This check only applies to emergency lighting systems with one central backup battery system/emergency generator. In this case there is a daily visual inspection of indicators on the central power supply to identify that the system is in a ready condition. No test of operation is required.

Monthly emergency lighting tests

All emergency lighting systems must be tested monthly. The test is a short functional test in accordance with BS 5266-1: 2011. The period of simulated failure should be sufficient for the purpose of this test whilst minimising damage to the system components e.g. lamps. During this period, all luminaires and signs shall be checked to ensure that they are present, clean and functioning correctly. A record of the test must be recorded in the emergency lighting log book.


A test for the full rated duration of the emergency lights (e.g. 3 hours) must be carried out. The emergency lights must still be working at the end of this test. The result must be recorded and if failures are detected, these must be remedied as soon as possible.

Types of system

Most emergency lighting schemes fall into one of the following categories:-

  • Non-maintained – The emergency light units only illuminate in the event of a mains failure.
  • Maintained – The emergency light units are illuminated at all times using the same lamps for both normal and emergency operation.
  • Sustained – The emergency light units are fitted with 2 Lamps or 2 Sets of lamps, one of which operates on mains 240V a.c. supply, the other which operates from the battery supply in the event of mains failure. It is basically a non-maintained system with the addition of mains lamps which should be illuminated whenever the premises are occupied.
  • Generator or battery alternative supply.

The type of system and emergency duration is often expressed in abbreviated form as per the following examples:-

  • M3 – Maintained System, emergency duration 3 hours.
  • NM2 – Non-maintained System, emergency duration 2 hours.
  • S1 – Sustained System, emergency duration 1 hour.

Get in touch with GA if you want help with your emergency lighting testing. 

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