Emergency Lighting Systems and Compliance

Emergency Lighting Sign Smoke and Light

Emergency Lighting


For the purposes of this article I will make reference to BS5266-1:2016 the U.K standard. I will also refer to IS3217 which is the Irish standard. I will go through the terminology and intricacies of the emergency lighting descriptive terms and the practicalities of deciding on an emergency lighting system and where it is required.


What is Emergency Lighting?

Emergency lighting is lighting that is provided for use when the supply to the normal lighting fails and which enables a safe exit from a location. There are a variety of terms used and standards quoted in emergency lighting discussions and I will clarify some of these from the outset.

At the time of writing (May 2020) the U.K standard is BS5266-1:2016 and the Irish standard is I.S 3217:2013+A1:2017.

IS EN 1838:2013 and BS EN 1838:2013 specifies the luminous requirements for emergency lighting. BS EN 60598-2-22 and IS EN 60598-2-22:2014 cover particular requirements of luminaires for emergency lighting. Additionally there are other related standards. These can be found on the British Standards Institution website and the National Standards Authority of Ireland website.


Types of Emergency Lighting

Emergency Escape Lighting

This is that part of emergency lighting provided to enable safe exit or termination of a potentially dangerous process, in the event of failure of the normal power supply.

Standby Lighting

Standby lighting is that part of emergency lighting provided to enable normal activities to continue substantially unchanged. Therefore Standby lighting is needed in buildings where functional tasks must continue during power failure. This needs to be 100% of the normal lighting.


Emergency Escape Lighting can itself be broken down into three key topics.

Escape Route Lighting

Escape Route Lighting is provided to enable safe exit for building occupants by providing appropriate visual conditions and direction finding on escape routes.

Open Area or Anti Panic Lighting

Open Area/Anti Panic lighting is provided to allow people to locate and make their way without panic, to a designated escape route.

High Risk Task Area Lighting

High Risk Task Area Lighting is provided to allow an operator to safely shut down a potentially dangerous process or task.


Emergency safety lighting

Emergency safety lighting is used during a power failure when there is a staged evacuation plan in place to allow occupants to remain in the building. The lighting would not be suitable to allow functional tasks to continue.


Where is emergency escape lighting necessary?

Emergency escape lighting enables safe exit or termination of potentially dangerous process. It is required in open areas, on the escape routes and in high risk task areas. It should also act as beacons to highlight specific points of emphasis and hazards such as:

  • Near each exit door that is to be used in an emergency and outside to a place of safety
  • Near stairs so that each tread receives adequate light
  • At each change of direction and Intersection of corridors
  • At emergency exits and safety signs

Near all of the following:

  • Fire-fighting equipment and fire alarm call points
  • Each first aid post
  • Escape equipment for the disabled
  • Refuges, disabled toilet alarms and two way communication systems
  • Manual release door controls

In addition you will find further guidance in the appropriate standards on open areas, toilets, escape routes and high risk task area illumination.


Emergency Lighting Design

Emergency lighting design is in effect a life-saving functional design task. It is the responsibility of the lighting designer to ensure that the emergency lighting design conforms to the Standard. Therefore they should provide adequate illuminance to enable people to move safely from their location to an escape route and onward to a place of safety. Subsequently this carries with it huge responsibility. It is unlikely that such designs can be adequately accomplished without visibility of the building or at least detailed communication from site along with drawing and visual aids. I would strongly recommend a site visit if possible.


Emergency Lighting Design Kick Off

I would recommended that the designer gets involved at an early stage of a project. The Standards recommend early consultation between the premises owner/developer/occupier, architect, installer and representative from the enforcing authority. Decisions can then be made on the areas to be covered and the type and operation of the emergency lighting system. Plans should be made available along with the risk assessment and any applicable legislative documentation. At this stage highlight any high risk task areas or need for safety or standby lighting.

A site visit is invaluable in that pictures can be taken and heights measured. Remember that as a designer, most plans that you will be working from will be 2D representations so a site visit is your chance to get a 3D perspective and capture vital information.


Emergency Lighting is Your Life Safety System

Imagine that there is an emergency situation, there may be a fire or some smoke in the vicinity. The electrical power has suddenly failed and the alarms are sounding. Your heart rate increases and it’s you that has to get out safely. Look around; how would you like the open area lit to get from there to the escape route quickly and safely. What hazards are in the way? Can you see escape signage guiding you towards the exit? Can you locate the exit doors and are they clearly signposted? Will you be able to see the fire call points and fire extinguishers clearly? If the rescue services have to enter the building will they be able to locate and clearly see the fire alarm panel and drawing. Would you like the absolute minimum level of emergency lighting required to meet the Standard or would you like a lot more?

Even though many of us will thankfully never experience this situation, hopefully you are now starting to realise that if you do, then this can be a life or death situation. You probably won’t know who designed your emergency lighting system or those that installed, verified and checked it. However you better hope that your building owner ensured that they were competent, qualified and professional. Your building should have design documentation, log book and certification for the emergency lighting. Why don’t you ask if this is in place?



BS5266 (UK) Certificates

BS5266 (UK): Certificates, which are a declaration of conformity, are available to cover new installations or existing installations. They are signed by the responsible person (RP) who is likely to be the business owner, employer or someone who has been appointed with the authority and responsibility to keep the premises safe. The RP can sign the certificate declaring that the system conforms to the appropriate standards. To have confidence in doing this, the RP should be in possession of a signed off declaration of design, installation and verification. They will also require the design data and drawings from an emergency lighting designer and a log book from the installer. You will find the documents that need to be signed off, in the current BS5266-1:2016 standards publication.

The client should ensure that the designer, verifier and installer are competent. Check that they have the relevant training, accreditations, tools and experience to carry out the work. This is not only for life safety reasons, but also because you the client and RP, are signing the certificate.

IS3217 (Ireland) Certificates

For Irish standard IS3217: The documentation and procedure below is similar to that for BS5266.

The responsible person signs off the Certificate of Handover after receiving:

1)        Emergency Lighting System, Signed Certificate of Design

2)        Emergency Lighting System, Signed Certificate of Installation

3)        Emergency Lighting System, Signed Certificate of Commissioning

4)        Emergency Lighting System, Signed Certificate of Handover

Additionally they should also receive:

a) ‘As installed’ drawings of the system indicating the positions and locations of all parts of the system, as well as data sheets and O&M manuals

b) A proposal for a Service Contract Agreement for the system

c) A system Logbook



Emergency lighting compliance is not something to fear. If you suspect that your system is non-compliant, a designer can show you where you are non-compliant. As a result they can then detail any necessary actions required for conformity. It is not a witch hunt but rather a process to ensure that your building is safe in the event of a power failure. Insurance companies will generally give you adequate time to remedy the nonconformities. That is of course, providing there isn’t a serious risk to personnel or there aren’t multiple deviations from the Standard.

Whilst the documentation may seem daunting to some, a competent designer will be able to produce all of the design paperwork. The installer can supply electrical installation and log book documentation. All of this documentation will go a long way towards proving conformity. Find a BAFE registered and BSI approved lighting designer and an accredited installer and keep them engaged. Do this for the safety of the people in the building and for peace of mind.

If you need any guidance on the above, feel free to contact me via LinkedIn or via Resourceable Ltd.

Like this article?

Get In Touch