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Emergency Lighting Regulations & Requirements

The objective of emergency lighting is to make sure that a light source illuminates promptly, automatically and for a suitable time frame, when the mains power supply is unable to function as normal.

Such lighting is designed to illuminate escape routes to create appropriate visual conditions to allow occupants to exit the premises, find escape routes and locate appropriate firefighting equipment in the event of an emergency situation.

A combination of different lighting types is usually required in most buildings – a risk assessment can identify the areas and locations which require various types of lighting installations.

A great deal of anxiety and confusion can be relieved by tactically placing emergency lighting and luminaries, which clearly indicate the way out of the building.

We’ve put together this guide to offer practical guidance and advice for anyone undertaking works on emergency lighting solutions.

The Guidelines

Emergency lighting systems should be in possession of the following British Standards:

  • BS 5266-1:2011
  • BS EN 1838:1999 (also numbered as BS 5266-7:1999)
  • BS EN 50172:2004 (also numbered as BS 5266-8:2004)
  • BS 7671:2008+Amd No.1:2011

In this guide, we’ll explain the use of and interpretations of the recommendations, as they apply to individuals and organisations that design, install, commission and maintain any form of emergency lighting installation.

The BS 5266-1 was re-evaluated and republished in 2011, thereby superseding the 2005 edition, which has now been withdrawn. Also withdrawn is the BS 5266-10:2008, which now formulate parts of the BS 5266-1:2011.

Although often placed under the umbrella term of emergency lighting, there are actually many different types of emergency lighting installations, many of which have varying objectives, such as:

  • Emergency lighting
  • Emergency escape lighting
  • Emergency escape route lighting
  • Anti-panic or open lighting
  • High-risk task area lighting

Legislations & Policies

As per the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, a responsible person is required to undertake a risk assessment to identify any threat to people who’ve entered a premises; that person is then required to roll out processes on the back of this to ensure the safeguarding of building occupants.

These processes must include the provision of the safe means of escape, as well as emergency lighting, which in itself must also take into account the requirements of those with a disability, particularly those with visual impairment.

Emergency lighting, as we’ve already mentioned, is covered by several pieces of legislation and regulation, the most important of these include:

You must ensure that you’re aware of these legislative documents and regulations before any emergency lighting work begins. These laws dictate that those undertaking work within any of these areas may well be required to demonstrate their competence, with the following regulations:

A responsible person must be regarded as competent where they have sufficient training and experience, which allows them to take part in implementing preventative and protective methods.

Emergency Lighting Design

At the outset of any emergency lighting project, up-to-date premises information must be obtained from drawings, site surveys or the site’s responsible person.

A typical list of actions that must take place during emergency lighting design process are as follows:

  • Examination of risks already highlighted.
  • Duration of the emergency lighting after normal mains has failed.
  • Identification of emergency escape routes, that take into account the potential hazards.
  • Identification of fire alarm call points, firefighting apparatus and fire safety signs.
  • Deciding on the most appropriate emergency lighting solutions.
  • How each lighting section will be isolated for testing and maintenance purposes.
  • Identification of any high-risk areas.
  • Identification of floor areas larger than 60m2.
  • Deciding on whether external illumination is required for final exit doors.

These points are absolutely crucial to decide upon, so the lighting design can be engineered in accordance with EN 1838 (BS 5266-7).

All plans and layout drawings should highlight all existing or suggested escape routes, fire alarm activation points and firefighting equipment, such as fire extinguishers.

This step should be completed at the very beginning of the project and should include all interested parties, from the owner, developer and the occupiers of the premises, to the lighting engineers, installation contractors and the building control and fire authorities.

Emergency Lighting Requirements by Sector

The battery back-up that activates once the mains power disconnects will depend entirely on what the building is used for and the strategy for evacuation.

Emergency lighting must be capable of offering continuous power for three-hours in entertainment venues, such as theatres and cinemas and for premises with sleeping risk, such as hotels and B&B’s.

Blocks of flats also require three-hour duration; this is because although the occupants would be well aware of their surroundings in the event of an emergency, enough time is required to ensure the authorities can ensure occupants can be evacuated in an orderly manner.

Typical premises that require 3-hour duration are:

Premises with Sleeping Accommodation:

  • Hospitals
  • Guest Houses
  • Care Homes
  • Boarding Schools
  • Clubs
  • Colleges
  • University Halls

Non-Residential Premises Used for Treatment or Care:

  • Special Schools
  • Clinics
  • Dentists

Non-Residential Recreational Premises:

  • Theatres
  • Cinemas
  • Concert Halls
  • Exhibition Halls
  • Sports Halls
  • Pubs
  • Clubs

Non-Residential Public Premises:

  • Town Halls
  • Libraries
  • Shopping Centres
  • Shops
  • Art Galleries
  • Museums
  • Aquariums

One-hour duration is acceptable in premises that can be evacuated immediately, and re-entry is delayed until the battery system has fully recharged.

Typical premises that require one-hour duration are usually non-residential premises used for teaching, training and research, and office spaces, which include:

  • Schools
  • Colleges
  • Technical Institutions
  • Laboratories
  • Nurseries
  • Universities
  • Places of Work

If a premise is used for more than one purpose, such as an educational institution with a theatre, for example, the longer duration will apply to the entirety of the premises. The building’s fire risk assessment should outline what kind of back-up battery system is required for each emergency lighting system.

Maintained emergency lighting should be used in public spaces where standard lighting may be dimmed during an emergency and in common areas where a build-up of smoke could dramatically reduce the effect of normal light.

Exit signs are also required to be illuminated and visible whenever the premises is occupied, which means maintained exit signs are necessary for licensed and entertainment venues. This is because those entering the premises will be mostly unfamiliar with the layout of the building.


Vision will vary depending on the individual, both in the amount of light needed to make out an object clearly and the time it takes to acclimatise to changes in the light levels.

The level of illuminance needed depends largely on the function of the space. It’s essential to also bear in mind that the stimulus for vision is not the light which falls onto an object, but rather the light that is reflected into our eyes.

Different objects can be distinguished by contrast, which alters the light that is reflected back into our eyes. For example, a light-coloured object against a dark background is far easier to make out than a dark object against a dark background.

The light falling onto an object is impacted not only by the power and positioning of the emergency lighting but also by the reflection around it. In a good deal of interior spaces, a high frequency of the light falling onto a surface is reflected light. For instance, when the walls, ceiling and floor are light in colour up to 60% of the light we use to make out our surroundings may be reflected from the walls and ceiling.

In an indoor area that is decorated in dark colours, the reflected light is obviously severely reduced. This is usually the case in restaurants and clubs, where the décor is a very deliberate design choice to create an atmosphere.

This is why all potential obstructions along an escape route should be light in colour, with contrasting surroundings. An excellent example of this is the steps in a cinema, which have lighting strips fitted to the edges of each step and are usually contrasting with a burgundy or black carpet.


At Powerguard, we are committed to working closely with you to ensure that you’re receiving the most efficient, cost-effective emergency lighting that is fit for purpose.

As such, if you have questions about emergency lighting, fire safety or you are interested in any of our other solutions, please get in contact with us today.

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