Commercial Blog

Emergency Lighting - Are You Compliant?

Erica Charles · 23 Nov 2017

If your mains lighting failed what would you do? Evacuate? Stay put? Use the daylight coming through the skylights or the windows to keep working?

Many organisations have emergency lighting, but it's amazing how few employees/occupants know what the drill is if the lights fail.  A fire alarm going off sends a recognisable message to get out. In contrast, without a clearly communicated policy, normal lighting failing and emergency lighting coming on is more likely to spread confusion, particularly in an environment where carrying on 'normally' is possible without the mains electricity working.

Furthermore, we see quite a few buildings in which the emergency lighting and / or signage hasn't been brought up to regulations - primarily the 2016 updated standard BS 5266

Does your business comply with the following? If not you’re at risk of prosecution:

Emergency lights and signs in the right place

BS 5266 sets out how escape routes should be illuminated. In addition it recommends that rooms should have emergency lighting if:

  • they are larger than 60m2;
  • they have an escape route passing through them (e.g. if they have an inner room); or
  • they have a hazard that is identified by the site risk assessment e.g. a kitchen.

Toilets with a floor area larger than 8m2 are considered to need emergency lighting.

Emergency escape lighting and signage:

Lighting and signage to enable safe exit from a building in the event of failure of the normal mains supply needs:

  • Signage to indicate unambiguously the escape route from the building. Signs should be illuminated, either using internally illuminated signs or externally illuminated signs.
  • Luminaires should be sited (normally within 2m measured horizontally) at:
  1. each exit door;

  2. changes of level, changes of direction, on flights of stairs so that each tread receives light, at intersections of corridors;

  3. first-aid equipment;

  4. fire alarm call points;

  5. fire extinguishers;

  6. fire alarm panels; 

  7. electrical distribution boards.

High risk task area lighting:

BS5266 identifies ‘high risk task areas’ which require illumination whether or not part of an escape route. A design risk assessment should be carried out to include identification of high risk task areas. See table below for examples.

Minimum lux levels for emergency lighting

BS 5266 gives a starting point for establishing the minimum lux levels for emergency lighting. 'In fill' emergency lighting may be required to achieve this.

Note that the commissioning certificate for emergency lighting needs to be accompanied by photometric design data, in one of the following formats, with appropriate maintenance de-rating factors to meet worst case requirements:

  •  authenticated spacing data such as ICEL 1001 registered tables;
  • calculations as per BS 5266-1:2016, Annex D and CIBSE / SLL Guide L12;
  • print-out of results from an appropriate computer programme.

BS 5266 recommends the provision of horizontal illumination at floor level along the centre line of a defined escape route up to 2 metres in width should be not less than 1 lux. Note that the previous minimum was 0.2 lux along the centre line of an escape routes, and therefore systems installed prior to 2016 may not comply.

Open areas with a floor area greater than 60m2 or those having been risk assessed as needing emergency lighting should be provided with horizontal illuminance of not less than 0.5 lux at the floor level of the area, excluding a border of 0.5m around the perimeter. The actual degree of illumination should take into account the nature of both the premises and its occupants.

BS 5266 also recommends minimum illumination in high risk areas as per the table below.

Note that if the building is not going to be evacuated immediately, additional emergency lighting may be needed for rooms where occupants are able to stay put. The design risk assessment should establish the desired lighting level.

Response times

The response time depends upon:

  • whether panic could arise amongst a significant number of people, which in turn depends upon factors such as the type of building and the people themselves (age, knowledge, training, physical and mental conditions);
  • time taken to adapt to the new, normally much lower, illuminance provided by the emergency lighting.

normal emergency response time is 50% of full output available within 5 secs, with 100% required within 60 seconds. In high risk task areas where the hazard is immediate, full emergency lighting must be available within 0.5 secs.

The table shows minimum recommended illuminances, response times and durations for specific areas:

Location Response time Minimum illuminance Minimum duration Reference plane
Kitchens 0.5 secs for full illuminance 15 lx 30 mins Horizontal working plane, switches and cut-outs readily visible
First aid rooms 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 15 lx 30 mins Horizontal working plane
Treatment rooms 0.5 secs for full illuminance 50 lx 30 mins Horizontal working plane
Refuges 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 5 lx Full duration of emergency lighting Horizontal floor, vertical wall-mounted communication devices and signs
Plant rooms, switch rooms, means of emergency operation for lifts 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 15 lx Full duration of emergency lighting In plane of visual task
Fire alarm control and indicating equipment 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 15 lx Full duration of emergency lighting In plane of visual task
Reception areas 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 15 lx Full duration of emergency lighting In plane of visual task
Panic bars and pads for security devices 5 secs for 50% of full illuminance, 60 secs for 100% 5 lx Full duration of emergency lighting Horizontal plane of panic bar / pad; vertical at vertically mounted security devices


Many business owners fail to carry out the monthly checks on emergency lighting, seeing the system as ‘fit and forget’. Testing can be laborious – but there are luminaires and remote testing systems to make it less so.

Testing - and improving efficiency - is a whole new opportunity ….. for our next lighting blog.

Our services and guides

Spirit offers the following services:

  • compliance audit - to check your organisation is compliant with the updated regulations;
  • design and installation of emergency lighting;
  • testing and maintenance of emergency lighting;
  • upgrades to self-testing luminaires or central testing systems;
  • LED lighting upgrades (normal mains lighting as well as emergency).

Our free Emergency Lighting Guide gives a very good overview of emergency lighting: 

Download FREE

Emergency Lighting Guide


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Topics: LED lighting, Emergency lighting