Emergency lighting: the overlooked necessity

By Richard Turner, Specification Luminaires Business Unit Director at Sylvania

Maintaining emergency lighting is vital to the provision of a safe working environment. The critical nature of its use demands that it is reliable, fit for purpose and compliant with the required standards.

Therefore, effective emergency lighting should sit at the top of the agenda for building managers, specifiers and installers. Unfortunately, scheduling the time for maintenance and testing in today’s always-on economy has never proved more challenging. The reality is that failure rates continue to increase downtime, affecting the built environment in the logistics and industrial sector.

The status quo

Emergency lighting solutions aren’t simply another form of lighting. In the event of an electrical failure caused by either a power cut or a fire, they are critical to lighting the way for emergency teams, employees and visitors during evacuation procedures and enable safety equipment to be easily located. With that said, it is vital that emergency lighting across Europe must be maintained in accordance with EN 1838:2013, lighting applications – emergency lighting.

Many member states have, however, taken steps to go above and beyond the minimum requirements set out by EN 1838:2013, with the provision of more stringent requirements via local directives. One such example is the UK, where emergency lighting is required for a minimum duration of three hours in the event of a supply failure, in comparison to the one-hour duration outlined by the European standard.

The problem is that despite the legal and moral obligation to not only install but, importantly, maintain and test emergency lighting, warehouses and factories across Europe have broken or inadequate emergency lighting and so are not EN 1838:2013 compliant. This is, in part down to businesses that fail to update their emergency lighting following a refurbishment.

However, while many will foot the initial financial outlay of installing emergency lighting, budget for on-going maintenance and testing is not prioritised. What’s more, insufficiently charged batteries continue to jeopardise the lives of those working in warehouses and factories, leaving companies open to increasingly severe financial penalties. However, leading emergency lighting ranges are now able to provide self-contained luminaires with long-life replacement batteries which ensure power failure doesn’t affect the performance of the system.

The importance of testing and maintenance

It is important to consider whether using LED or incandescent, that comprehensive testing is vital. According to Firesafe, a free fire safety and fire prevention advice portal, it is therefore recommended that to ensure emergency lighting remains compliant with the following recommended schedule is adhered to[1]:

  • Emergency lighting systems with a central back-up battery system should be inspected on a daily basis. This should simply comprise establishing whether all charging indicators are confirming that the system is operational.
  • All emergency lighting should be tested monthly via a short duration test following a controlled power cut.
  • A test of the full battery duration of all emergency lighting is carried out. A schedule can be drawn up to spread the testing to accommodate zonal requirements and uptime of the individual facility.

Despite the obvious importance of the above, emergency lighting continues to be insufficiently maintained and tested due to everything from failing to do a risk assessment, not keeping up with the latest standards and not carrying out, or correctly documenting testing.

The cost of maintenance needs to be considered not only from a financial perspective, which often include additional machinery such as cherry pickers for high-ceiling warehouses, but also by looking at lost productivity through downtime. This is because it can, in many instances, the cost of downtime can be more than the cost of either retrofitting upgrades or installing a new lighting solution to reduce maintenance and increase reliability and energy efficiency. Why wouldn’t you want greater uptime, reduce costs and steer well clear of regulatory fines and penalties for breaches in safety in one fell swoop?

The quest for energy efficiency

When it comes to performance, energy efficiency should be a priority for warehouse and factory facilities managers. The 2010 Energy Performance of Buildings Directive is the EU's main legislation driving improved energy performance of buildings across the board. The standard has been revised toinclude the use of information and communication technology (ICT) and smart technology to boost energy efficiency and building control.

With around 75%[2] of buildings in Europe currently rated as energy inefficient and a maximum of 1.2% of buildings renovated each year, the scope for energy efficiency gains in the sector are there for the taking. Notably the easiest part of a building’s infrastructure to upgrade and with typically the quickest payback period, reviewing emergency lighting will support businesses in remaining compliant and reducing energy costs.

The advances in technology over recent years has seen a greater option of LED-powered lighting rather than incandescent-based systems when it comes to emergency lighting. Improved safety, a reduced carbon footprint, and energy savings are just a few of the benefits of turning to LED lighting. Using up to 90% less energy than their incandescent counterparts due to the need for fewer luminaires and lasting up to ten times longer, LED lighting performs from a whole-life cost perspective. To the benefit of building managers, specifiers and installers, LEDs have also facilitated the development of sleeker, more compact emergency luminaires, while improving the quality and distribution of light.

Additionally, with reliability an essential factor in an emergency situation, incandescent lighting can deliver varying, and in some cases, poor levels of illumination. As LED products and systems continue to mature, the limited control offered by an incandescent-designed network cannot be upgraded to reflect the new capabilities of smart-based technologies. This is particularly relevant to the testing and maintenance of emergency lighting, with LEDs able to work with smart systems to deliver easier testing through remote and automated offerings.

Therefore it’s no surprise that so many people are making the switch to LED. 

Thinking smart

LED is the smarter approach to emergency lighting, with potential benefits to be gained by embracing smart technology-driven functionality. Why? Because intelligent systems that automate testing and detection requirements for emergency lighting can remove the need for lengthy and costly fault searching. This not only benefits business operations but also provides the reassurance that a building is both compliant and safe.

Systems that offer remote monitoring and live status updates to provide diagnostics in real-time, make it even easier for facilities managers to have an overview of single or multiple sites at any given time and also to be alerted should indicators change. This means that problems are identified and dealt with quickly to maximise the uptime of business-critical operations. What’s more, facilities personnel are now able to monitor lighting and emergency lighting from their individual device anywhere and at any time, an essential perk in today’s always-on workplace.

Face the future with confidence

Failing to install, maintain and test fit-for-purpose emergency lighting and signage, means that many businesses are failing to meet the European standard EN 1838:2013, putting their occupants at risk. The growing availability of smart, efficient emergency lighting systems, coupled with improving safety and efficiency standards, means that now is the time for facilities operators to review, refurbish or retrofit their emergency lighting.

[1] https://www.firesafe.org.uk/emergency-lighting/

[2] https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/energy-efficiency/buildings

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