Mike Sopp provides an update on emergency escape routes and exits.

Prior to the introduction of modern “goal-setting” fire safety legislation, the adequacy of fire precautions in premises was based on a prescriptive approach whereby building control and local fire authority officers, having approved the fire precautions, would issue a fire certificate for the premises.

In practice, this meant that trained and experienced persons would check that premises met the prescriptive requirements.

The “responsible person” is now expected to ensure that the requirements of statutory instruments, such as the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 are met, primarily through the risk-assessment process.

The responsible person must ensure that fire precautions remain “fit for purpose” and determine the need to install and/or modify emergency escape lighting within the premises.

Legislative requirements

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, the responsible person is required to ensure that emergency routes and exits are indicated by signs, and those requiring illumination “must be provided with emergency lighting of adequate intensity in the case of failure of their normal lighting”.

Similarly, the relevant building regulations require all escape routes to have “adequate artificial lighting”.

Official government guidance states that “people in your premises must be able to find their way to a place of total safety if there is a fire, by using escape routes that have enough lighting”.

It is worth noting that emergency lighting can fall into two categories, as follows.

  1. Emergency lighting that is provided for use when the supply to the normal lighting fails.

  2. Escape lighting that is provided to ensure that the escape route/s are illuminated at all material times.

Emergency escape lighting is normally required to operate fully automatically and give illumination of a sufficiently high level to enable persons to evacuate the premises safely.

Determining needs

For new builds and major refurbishments, the decision as to whether or not emergency and/or escape lighting is required is likely to be made at the design stage. Architects, engineers and building control officers have a blank canvas from which the most appropriate system can be designed and installed, based on legislative requirements and best practice standards.

For existing premises with no emergency lighting or with systems designed and installed to older legislative requirements and best practice standards, the position on assessing the need for emergency and/or escape lighting or for modifying current systems is more problematic.

Risk assessing is fundamental to modern fire safety management. The Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting (ICEL), in the guidance document ICEL 1008: Emergency Lighting-Risk Assessment Guide, notes that the “requirement for emergency lighting, its type location and maintenance are all defined through the risk assessment, which uses provision of fire precaution equipment as a method of compensating for the risks in a building and reducing the risk to tolerable levels”.

The size and type of premises and the risk to the occupants will determine the complexity of the emergency escape lighting required.

Government guidance notes that, where any escape routes are internal and without windows, or premises are used during periods of darkness (including early darkness on winter days), then some form of backup to the normal escape route lighting is likely to be required. Put more simply, ICEL 1008 suggests three simple questions should be answered.

  1. Are your premises used during periods of darkness?

  2. Will there always be sufficient lighting to safely use escape routes?

  3. Do you have back-up power supplies for your emergency lighting?

It should be noted that there may be some exceptions to this. For example:

  • where “borrowed lighting” from a dependable source (eg street lamps) illuminates escape routes in basic premises that are not used by the public

  • where borrowed lighting is not suitable (eg in a high-risk area), then a number of torches in strategic positions for the use of staff only could be considered.

For more complex premises, it is recognised that “a more comprehensive system of electrical automatic emergency escape lighting will be needed to illuminate all the escape routes”.

As with other aspects of fire risk assessing, where the responsible person is not capable of interpreting guidance and good practice in relation to emergency lighting needs, it may be necessary to gain assistance from more competent persons, such as a lighting engineer, to provide advice and support.

BS 5266-1

Official guidance notes that if the decision is taken to install or modify current systems, any work should be carried out by a competent person in accordance with appropriate standards (BS 5266-1 and BS 5266-8).

BS 5266-1: Emergency Lighting – Part 1 is the main standard for the emergency escape lighting of premises and many emergency escape lighting systems are designed to meet this. This code of practice outlines how to meet European standards BS EN 1838 and BS EN 50172, including guidance on emergency lighting system design, installation and wiring.

In 2011, BS 5266-1 was reissued, replacing the old standard and incorporating guidance previously found in BS 5266-10. It is seen as an essential document in assisting the responsible person in meeting statutory obligations.

The forward to the standard notes that it has been “updated to assist those engineers wishing to protect occupants from the hazards identified by risk assessments, and also to evaluate existing premises to decide if they need to be upgraded to meet current requirements”.

The updated standard contains a number of changes, most notably:

  • the provision of additional documentation to the responsible person with records of location and types of components installed

  • a recommended increase of lux levels in escape routes from 0.2 lux to 1 lux

  • a recommended increase in operational time to three hours for most types of premises (with some exceptions).

In terms of escape route luminance, the standard notes that “some existing installations might have been engineered to a previous minimum of 0.2 lux along the centre line of an escape route. These installations might need to be reviewed to check that their illumination level continues to be acceptable for the application”.

In light of this, the Fire Protection Association/Fire & Security Association recommend that fire risk assessors, building owners and/or the responsible person should review assessments to determine if systems with lower lux levels are still “suitable and acceptable”.

The format of emergency escape signage that may require illumination is also considered in the standard — ISO 3864 is the intended new common format and should be used where possible.

The standard recommends that a minimum duration of one hour should be used only if the premises will be evacuated immediately on supply failure and not reoccupied until full capacity has been restored to the batteries.

Consultation is seen as an important element for the application of the standard. It is emphasised that, at the earliest stage, “consultation between the responsible person, owner/developer and/or occupier of the premises, the architect, the lighting engineer, the installation contractor, the enforcing authorities (eg the building control body), the electricity authority and any others concerned” should take place.

The standard then details the procedure to be followed to ensure that the most appropriate system is installed and highlights the factors to be given consideration.

Further information

Last reviewed 26 March 2013