Emergency Lighting
Emergency lighting

Emergency lighting is required in premises to allow occupants to escape safety in an emergency situation. The requirements under BS 5266: 2016 state that “a building must have adequate illumination for escape and identify firefighting equipment”.
In the UK, the legislation stipulates that all business premises including offices, factories, pubs and clubs, schools, hospitals and entertainment venues – including tents and marquees – must have emergency lighting. If the lighting is artificial (lighting from lamps), then it will be on escape routes showing exit signs, and in open areas 60m2 or greater.

The emergency lighting system must allow for safe movement of occupants walking out of a building, whether during a power cut or evacuation. It will prevent panic during evacuation if the occupants can see the directional signs for escape routes. All escape routes must be illuminated, which includes rooms, corridors, and emergency exit route signage. The signage will be either luminescent or presented by illuminated signs showing directions.

In addition, the emergency lighting should illuminate firefighting equipment such as fire alarm call points and portable fire extinguishers, either on escape routes or elsewhere within the building, allowing the safe use and operation of such equipment to escape the building or fight the fire.

For this reason, the emergency lighting supply must stay illuminated for a continuous duration of one hour, and recharge within 24 hours, before occupants can return to the premise. This is three hours for higher risk premises such as hotels (where there is a sleeping risk), places requiring early occupation (such as schools, hospitals and places of entertainment including licensed premises). Generally, all premises use the three hour duration to avoid confusion and discrepancies between the different types of property. Those properties that only require one hour duration benefit from extra protection, and allow occupant re-entry earlier as the lamps will still have two hours of central battery life while recharging. Some specific properties may have a greater duration requirement identified by local authority schemes.

Once we understand the requirements for our building, the competent person must then understand the “modes of operation” under BS 5266-1.


Emergency Lighting will only illuminate when the mains power fails; the lamps do not work when the main lighting circuit is working normally.


Emergency Lighting will be on during normal lighting operation, and will switch on and off but operate and turn on when the power fails.

Combined (Sustained)

This type of Emergency Lighting is commonly found in false ceiling type fluorescent luminaires, where three of the tubes operate as normal lighting. During mains failure, these three tubes go out but the fourth tube operates, continuing to illuminate the area. Combined luminaires can contain non maintained or maintained tubes.

Escape Signage

This type of Emergency Lighting can be either signage (self adhesive stickers, Perspex or photoluminescent) illuminated by a local emergency luminaire; or they can be illuminated internally where the sign forms part of the lamp itself.

As a guide, premises that have a large number of occupants that are unfamiliar with the layout should have maintained exit signs installed, although local regulations may apply and will require consultation.

Where should emergency lighting be installed?

Generally, emergency lighting should be installed in areas of particular risk, points of emphasis, toilets, closet and lobby areas.

Areas of particular risk:

Locations of risk are where emergency lighting may be required to enable high risk tasks, activities to be terminated or areas cleared safely – such as kitchens, first aid or treatment rooms, refuge areas and swimming pools, escalators and passenger lifts. These will also cover areas such as fire alarm panels, plant rooms, reception areas and emergency exit push bar doors (further information can be found in BS 5266-1 Informative Annexe D).

Points of emphasis:

Illumination is required for particular areas such as stairs; changes of direction; outside final exits; near first aid points and fire points containing extinguishers; call points and fire panels; and any evacuation equipment such as rescue mats or wheelchairs.

Toilets, closet and lobby areas:

Areas exceeding 8m2 including cubicles should be provided with emergency lighting as if they were open areas. Disabled toilets and multiple closet areas without borrowed lighting from outside. Streetlamps through windows for example, should have at least one emergency lighting luminaire.

Hotel rooms designated for disabled use must have a lamp in the toilet/bathroom, and good practice would provide emergency lighting in the other rooms too.

Testing emergency lighting

All emergency lighting must be maintained and regularly tested in the same way as other emergency equipment. Each light should be identified and have a location identity for recordkeeping. A record log can then be kept of system tests, defects, any damage to the system and remedial action relating to each light.

The monthly test can be carried out by the responsible person, and is a short functional test which ensures the lamp switches on and illuminates correctly. It should be free from damage and clean. The test should be done using the secure device key, commonly called a fish key due to its shape. The fish key should be used rather than switching off the mains lighting power, which may be hazardous to other occupants. Further information can be found in BS EN 50172 and BS 5366-8.

Annual emergency lighting tests should be performed for the full duration of the emergency light (ie three hours). If the lamps do not last past the duration then they will fail the test. These tests will normally be performed by technicians during a fire alarm service, as this can be done while waiting for the lamps to complete the duration of test. Other considerations should include that the tests be performed during periods of lesser occupation.

Building regulations and British standards that should be consulted for further information
BS 5266-1: 2016 Code of practice for emergency lighting of premises – gives general rules and guidance on the provision and operation of emergency lighting in most premises other than dwelling houses