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Emergency Lighting Regulations and Certifications in the UK

Emergency lighting is pretty self-explanatory; it is lighting for use in emergencies, and is necessary in commercial and high occupancy residential buildings. Whether that is in the context of a fire, a blackout or any other cause of loss of lighting, emergency lighting, provided by luminaires, is needed so that panic is reduced, exit routes are lit up and potential hazards can be seen more clearly.

A modern emergency lighting luminaire.

A modern emergency lighting luminaire.

A modern emergency lighting luminaire.

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In fitting satisfactory emergency lighting there are certain regulations and standards that should be met, as outlined by the UK code of practice BS5266. A few of the critical points shall be outlined here.

Building Regulations

All emergency routes and exits requiring illumination in a building must be provided with emergency lighting of adequate intensity in case the lighting fails.

In addition to escape routes, any area larger than 60m­2 must have back-up illumination ready to take over in the event of the failure of the normal lighting supply. Consideration needs to be given to some rooms smaller than 60 m2 should the function of the room merit emergency lighting (for example toilets larger than 8m2 and rooms in which there are hazardous chemicals and substances or heavy machinery).

Any external emergency lighting needs to cover the route from the outside of the building to a place of safety.

Fire alarm call points and fire fighting equipment should be clearly illuminated by emergency lighting in case of need.

Alongside this, in any school building, all parts of the building that do not have a natural light source or are used outside of normal school hours must have emergency lighting. Contact Effekta at for more information.

Healthy and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations

There must be adequate provision of signs, which are visible under emergency lighting. Signs must be visible at all final exits and at any point throughout the building where the exit route may be in doubt. In particular, signs should be emplaced at stairways, changes in floor level, corridor intersections, changes in direction and other areas that could lead to potential confusion concerning exit routes.

A typical emergency exit light sign.

A typical emergency exit light sign.

Design Objective

Emergency lighting must be specifically placed so that it fulfils certain criteria:

  • To indicate clearly and unambiguously the escape routes
  • To provide illumination along such routes to allow safe movement towards and through the exits provided. For example, luminaires should be positioned directly above flights of stairs so that each step receives direct light
  • To ensure that fire alarm call points and fire fighting equipment provided along escape routes can be readily located.
  • To ensure that any first aid equipment and first aid points can be found rapidly and easily
  • To permit operations concerned with safety measures.

Discussions concerning the placement of emergency lighting so that it fulfils these criteria should be held prior to installation, between the owner or occupier of the premises, the system designer, the fitter, the supplier of the equipment and the local fire authority.

Servicing and Testing

Emergency lighting systems must be tested with a simulated mains power failure; this will force the emergency lighting to operate, thus testing its functionality. This test can be carried out either manually or automatically.

Manual Testing – A simulated mains failure can be achieved by providing a switch to isolate all lighting circuits. After this switch has been flipped, it is necessary for the tester to walk the whole building, checking that each luminaire is operating correctly, making note of their functionality in a logbook. Once the power is restored, a second walk needs to be done, to check that each luminaire is recharging properly.

Automatic Testing – self-testing emergency lighting is available to avoid the costs and disruptions an engineer may incur. However, monthly and annual tests still need to be recorded.


BS5266 and the European Standard require certificates of compliance to be available for on-site inspection. These should cover the following points:

  • Installation quality: on completion of the fitting, a certificate confirming a satisfactory level of installation quality is needed; this should be supplied by the installer.
  • Photometric performance: the system designer should supply evidence of compliance with light levels.
  • Declaration of a satisfactory test of operation: a log of all systems and results must be maintained; system logbooks, with commissioning forms, testing forms and instructions should be supplied by the installer.


Emergency lighting is a necessary requirement in most buildings in the UK and can save lives in an emergency. However, all emergency lighting must conform to regulations and standards. For any other concerns refer to the BS5266 code of practice.


Article by Rob Holman


Image Credits: Wikipedia, Wikipedia

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