Emergency Lighting Guides

All you need to know about Emergency Lighting

Emergency Lighting guidance for building owners and facility managers

What is Emergency Lighting

Emergency Lighting describes a system of luminaires that automatically turn on when the power supply fails. The term emergency lighting is used to describe both emergency escape lighting and standby lighting.

Emergency lighting is a fundamental element of public and commercial building safety. It must provide illumination of a sufficient level to allow all occupants to evacuate the premises safely. 

Put simply, emergency lighting must be strong enough to guide people to an exit for the full period of time it takes to evacuate all inhabitants of the building.

Emergency Lighting

Guide: What is Emergency Lighting?

A quick and easy guide to emergency lighting

Categories of Emergency Lighting

Emergency lighting is a general term used to describe two categories of lighting that provide light when the mains power fails. At Safecility we deal with the first category, emergency escape lighting. A description of these categories are outlined below.

Emergency escape lighting

Emergency escape lighting exists to enable safe exit for occupants by providing appropriate visual conditions and direction to escape routes and to the location of fire fighting/safety equipment. Emergency escape lighting also enables shut down of crucial or dangerous operations before evacuation.

Standby lighting

Standby lighting is installed so that normal operations can resume in the event of a power cut. Examples of premises which would need this type of lighting would be operating theaters and air traffic control towers. Standby lighting must provide 100% of normal lighting levels. Standby lighting is not commonly used and is not a legal requirement.

Subcategories of Emergency Lighting

Escape route lighting

Emergency lighting that enables safe exit and direction for occupants. Also directs to location of firefighting equipment.

Open area lighting

Emergency lighting that is used in areas over 60m2 to prevent panic and aid movement and direction finding.

High risk task area

Emergency lighting in areas where proper shut-down procedures must be completed before evacuation.

How does emergency lighting work?

Emergency lights are battery-operated and provide backup power in the event of a power outage. These lights can be stand-alone, or integrated into existing lights, but both types are wired to the mains supply when installed.

During periods of normal lighting operation, emergency light batteries can be powered from the mains – keeping the battery fully charged at all times. When power is disrupted, the charged battery provides replacement power to the emergency light.


Do I need emergency lighting?

Every building, apart from single residential homes, needs emergency lighting. Owners of all  sizes of public and commercial buildings, as well as private multi-unit residences with shared areas, have a legal duty of care to protect occupants by installing and maintaining emergency lighting.

It’s the responsibility of the fire risk assessor designated by the building’s owner to conduct a risk assessment to establish if and where emergency lighting is required.

Property owners and facility managers should fully understand the role of emergency lighting as they are responsible for its maintenance, this includes physical and visual inspections, as well as detailed record keeping.


Where should emergency lighting be installed?

There are many types of buildings required to have emergency lighting in place: hotels, hospitals, schools, offices, shops, factories, restaurants and entertainment venues, to name but a few. The location of emergency escape lighting will differ from building to building depending on the buildings use.

Generally speaking, emergency luminaires should be installed in the following areas of a building

          • Staircases
          • Any change in floor level
          • Any change of direction
          • At firefighting equipment and fire alarm panel
          • At escape equipment for the disabled
          • At intersection of corridors
          • At emergency exits and outside towards a place of safety
          • Outside the final exit

Minimum Lighting Levels

Minimum Lighting Levels

How is emergency lighting testing carried out?

A power failure on the normal lighting circuit must be simulated in order to test emergency lighting. During this simulation, all luminaires and signs should be checked to ensure they’re functioning correctly. These checks can be carried out manually or automatically, depending on the type of emergency lighting system installed in the building. As per standards BS5266 (UK) and IS3217 (Ireland), short functional tests that last up to 30 minutes should be carried out on a monthly basis, while a full three-hour discharge test needs to take place on all systems once a year.

Operation types

There are two main modes of operation associated with emergency lighting products that are important to know:maintained and non-maintained. We delve into more detail about the difference between the two in our Emergency Lighting Testing System Guide.


What are the different types of testing systems?

To make sure lights are operating correctly the lights must be periodically tested. Testing can be carried out manually or automatically.

Manual testing

Manual testing of emergency lighting is carried out in person by an electrician or a competent person. 

Automatic testing

Automatic test systems can both monitor and test emergency lighting systems without human intervention. Traditional automatic test systems are sub-divided into two types:

                1. Self-test emergency lighting
                2. Automatic testing systems


Types of Emergency lighting testing systems

Guide: Types of Testing Systems

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Testing certificates and the emergency lighting logbook

BS 5266 and IS 3217 both indicate that on completion of an emergency lighting system installation, or when a major alteration to an existing installation takes place, completion certificates, details of luminaire locations, evidence of compliance with required light levels and log book should be supplied to the occupier/owner of the premises.

The log book should be used to record;

        • date of commissioning of the system including any certificate relating to alterations;
        • date of each periodic inspection and test;
        • date and brief details of each service, inspection or test carried out;
        • dates and brief details of any defects and of remedial action taken;
        • date and brief details of any alteration to the emergency lighting installation;
        • if any automatic testing device is employed, the main characteristic and the mode of
        • operation of that device shall be described.


The logbook may be kept as a manual record, or as a hardcopy obtained from an automatic testing device. The logbook should be kept in a secure location and should be made available by the owner/occupier at all reasonable times for examination by any duly authorized person.

Emergency lighting standards & regulations

Emergency lighting is legally required and is governed by a variety of different linked standards. The base guidance documents which form the foundation and give guidance to emergency lighting designers are BS: 5266 (UK) and IS: 3217 (Ireland).

All non-domestic buildings require emergency lighting, including common areas of domestic dwellings with multiple occupancies. To begin you’ll need to determine what classification your building falls under. Details of building classifications can be found in BS5266 (UK) and Technical Guidance Document B (Ireland). The type of emergency lighting and number of fixtures should be selected on the basis of size, function and a risk assessment of the building. The responsible person should always engage with a qualified emergency light designer to plan a system that is appropriate for the building.

How often should emergency lighting be tested?

Testing, inspection and maintenance of emergency lighting is as important as installing the lighting in the first place. Building owners must be confident that the lights are operational and will function in the event of an emergency. The following describes the minimum requirements outlined in the UK & Irish standards, but for a more detailed outline of required testing frequency read our testing requirements guide.

UK: BS EN 50172:2004 / BS 5266:2004

UK Emergency Lighting Testing Frequency

Ireland: IS 3217: 2013

Ireland Emergency Lighting Testing Frequency 1
Testing obligations

Guide: Your Testing Obligations

Your Emergency Lighting testing obligations explained

How to ensure compliance?

Regular servicing is essential and all tests are required to be documented as evidence of compliance. If failures are detected, these must be remedied as soon as possible and any faults shown during the test must be fully documented in the log-book. The log-book can be physical or digital.

Penalties for non-compliance.

Emergency lighting testing is a legal obligation and there are considerable penalties associated with failure to adequately test and maintain it. It’s the responsibility of the business owner to be aware of inspection and maintenance schedules and to ensure they are compliant. Non-compliance can result in hefty repercussions such as fines, imprisonment and injury to occupants.

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Overview of the standards UK

Base Guidance Document

BS 5266-1: 2016

Emergency lighting. Code of practice for the emergency lighting of premises

System Standards

BS EN 1838:1999 / BS 5266-7:1999

Lighting applications. Emergency lighting

BS EN 50172:2004 / BS 5266-8:2004

Emergency escape lighting systems.

Product Standards

BS EN 60598-1: 2015

Luminaires. General requirements and tests

BS EN 62034:2006

Automatic test systems for battery powered emergency escape lighting.

BS EN 50171:2001

Central power supply systems

Overview of Irish Standards

Base Guidance Document

IS 3217:2013

Emergency Lighting

System Standards

IS EN 1838:2013

Lighting applications. Emergency lighting

IS EN 50172:2004

Emergency escape lighting systems.

Product Standards

IS EN 60598-2-22:2014

Luminaires. Particular requirements. Luminaires for emergency lighting

IS EN 62034:2012

Automatic test systems for battery powered emergency escape lighting.

IS EN 50171:2001

Central power supply systems

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