What is Emergency & Exit Lighting?

What is Emergency & Exit Lighting?

In situations of emergency and power failure, obscured visibility could prevent occupants from locating the exit in time, putting lives at risk. Unfortunately, this is a reality in many residential, office, or industrial settings.

To combat this problem, emergency and exit lighting systems are required by Australian law in any building, along with their timely maintenance and inspections for fire safety

Put simply, these lighting systems are designed to remain illuminated even when power is lost, by using a dedicated power source. This ensures that evacuation routes and exits remain visible at all times, allowing occupants to move safely in the event of an emergency or blackout.

Various types of lighting systems are used for emergencies and exits depending on the building type, layout, and complexity. In this post, you'll learn more about the types of emergency and exit lighting systems, their respective features, and how to choose the right one for a particular building to ensure that you comply with Australian safety standards.

What Are the Main Types of Exit & Emergency Lights?

Generally, emergency lighting systems are classified as either standard or central systems. Standard systems use battery-powered lamps while centralised systems use more powerful lights connected to a main power source. This is usually the building's main power supply but with its own dedicated circuit.

Within each type, there are further categorisations of lighting systems that can be used for emergency and exit purposes. To abide by the Building Code of Australia, it's important to consider the type of lighting system most suitable for a particular building. This is because not all emergency lighting systems are suitable for all types of buildings.

For instance, standard systems are most suitable for smaller buildings, while centralised systems work best in large buildings with multiple levels or exits. It's also important to consider the types of lumens and wattage that you would need based on the area size and layout of a building.

Emergency Light Fittings

The most common types of emergency light fittings are maintained, non-maintained, and combined/sustained.

  • Maintained Emergency Lights: Maintained emergency lights are constantly illuminated when the power is on as part of the regular lighting system. In case of a power outage, these lights will stay on automatically and remain illuminated for a specific duration of time. These are often used to illuminate paths leading to safety exits in cases of low visibility due to darkness or smoke.
  • Non-Maintained Emergency Lights: Non-maintained emergency lights are powered by battery backup and turn on only in cases of power outages. They're usually connected to the building's emergency supply, which kicks into action when a loss of mains power is detected.
  • Sustained/Combined Emergency Lights: Sustained or combined emergency lights are a combination of maintained and non-maintained lighting systems. These lights have two power sources – mains power and battery backup. While mains electricity is connected to the regular lighting system, the battery-powered lights only come on in cases of a blackout to ensure visibility in the building.

Apart from the type of lighting system, there are also various design types of emergency lights that can be chosen to suit a particular building. Commonly used designs include oyster or circular lights, emergency downlights, batten lights, flood lights, and emergency weatherproof fittings.

  • Oyster/Circular Lights: As their name suggests, oyster/circular lights are shaped like an oyster shell. These are usually installed in ceilings or walls as a part of the regular lighting system. They're often used to illuminate stairways and corridors leading to exit doors.
  • Emergency Downlights: Emergency downlights, also known as exit signs, are used to indicate the direction of evacuation routes in case of a blackout. They're usually installed on walls or ceilings and typically show an arrow pointing towards the nearest exit.
  • Batten Lights: Batten lights are fluorescent tubes that are mounted on walls or ceilings as part of the regular lighting system. They're often used to provide general illumination in areas such as staircases, corridors, and lobbies.
  • Flood Lights: Flood lights are powerful lamps that provide general illumination in large open spaces such as parking lots and hallways. These lights typically come on when the mains power is disconnected, providing optimum visibility to exit routes during a blackout.
  • Emergency Weatherproof Fittings: Emergency weatherproof fittings are used to illuminate exit routes in outdoor areas. These lights are designed to resist harsh weather conditions and come equipped with a built-in battery backup system for use when the mains power is disconnected.

Exit Lights

Now, let's move on to exit lights, which are used to indicate the direction of egress. In Australia, below are some of the most commonly used exit lights:

  • Standard Box Style Lights: These are simple boxes, typically mounted on walls or ceilings. They feature a visible arrow that points towards the nearest emergency exit in cases of power outages and low visibility.
  • Weatherproof Exit Signs: As their name suggests, these signs are designed to be resistant to harsh weather conditions. They come with a built-in battery backup system for use in cases of a blackout.
  • Blade Style Lights: Blade-style lights are usually installed on walls or ceilings and feature a downward-facing arrow to indicate the direction of evacuation routes in cases of an emergency.
  • Temporary Exit Signs: These signs are designed to be used in temporary situations such as public events or construction sites. They come equipped with a built-in battery backup system for use in cases of low visibility due to darkness or smoke.
  • Vandalism Proof Signs: Vandalism-proof signs are designed to be resistant to damage caused by vandalism and other destructive behaviours. These signs feature a built-in battery backup system and are often used in public places with high foot traffic.
  • Temperature Resistant Signs: Temperature-resistant signs are designed to withstand extremely hot and cold temperatures, making them ideal for use in areas with extreme weather conditions e.g. commercial refrigeration rooms and boiler plants. They feature a visible arrow pointing towards the nearest emergency exit in cases of a blackout.

Where Should You Place Emergency Lighting?

Now that you understand the types of emergency lights available, it's important to consider where they should be placed to provide optimum visibility and guidance during a blackout. According to the Australian Building Code and the Australian Emergency Lighting Code, emergency lighting should be placed in "any government or commercial building that is occupied by employees, customers, the general public, or the common areas of multi-residential buildings."

In residential and commercial buildings, emergency lights should be installed in common spaces, escape routes, near exit doors, stairs and landings, near fire fighting and fire safety equipment [i.e. fire extinguishersfire hose reels and fire hydrants], lifts, ramps and escalators. For outdoor areas, emergency lights should be installed on walls or poles that are clearly visible from all approachable points.

Exit lights and emergency exit signs should be placed above exit doors, stairs, and terraces/balconies to provide clear directions towards the nearest safe area during a blackout.

In addition to the above, it's also essential to ensure that all emergency lights are in working order and have a battery backup system installed in case of a power outage. This ensures that you have sufficient illumination during an emergency situation, which can help save lives.

Australian Standard for Emergency Lighting

The Australian Standard for Emergency Lighting, AS 2293: Emergency Escape Lighting & Exit Signs, is the common code of practice for emergency lighting installations in Australia. The standard consists of three major components, covering system design and installation & operation, routine service and maintenance, as well as emergency luminaires and exit signs.

The minimum legal requirements stipulated by the Australian Standard include:

  • Emergency lights must run for a minimum of 90 minutes on battery
  • Exit lights must be tested every 6 months
  • Emergency lights must be cleaned once a year
  • There must be a green LED indicator to confirm the charging of light
  • The brightness & range of emergency lighting should meet the following requirements:
    • Floor areas: 0.2 lux minimum
    • Other isolated darker areas: 1 lux minimum
  • Defects and maintenance updates should be recorded in a log book

Failure to comply with the Australian Standard can result in significant penalties, including up to 3 million AUD for corporations and financial damage, plus up to 5 years in jail for individuals. Therefore, it's important to meet the minimum legal requirements and take extra safety measures as outlined by the standard to provide a safe environment for occupants.

Emergency Light Testing

As mentioned earlier, emergency lights must be tested every 6 months to ensure they work correctly. This testing can be conducted manually using the test button on the light or with an automatic testing and monitoring system that can check for faults such as open circuits, low battery voltage, or short circuits.

In addition to manual testing, it's also important to perform an annual maintenance check and cleaning of the emergency light. This should be carried out by qualified individuals such as a licensed electrician or emergency lighting professional, who can also look for any signs of wear and tear on the battery or other parts of the light.

Finally, it's important to record any defects or maintenance updates in a logbook to keep track of the emergency lights and ensure they're functioning correctly. That way, you can be confident the lights will work properly when needed.

Staying Prepared

In conclusion, it's important to stay prepared for unexpected power failures and equip your staff, customers, or residents with the knowledge of how to follow emergency lighting and recognize potential hazards. Moreover, it's essential to comply with Australian standards for emergency lighting systems through regular installation, testing, and safety maintenance services. This will help ensure a safe environment should an unforeseen emergency occur.

In this way, you can ensure that everyone is equipped for any potential power outages and that your premises comply with the relevant regulations. Remember that the ultimate responsibility for the safety of people and places lies in your hands. Plus, the penalties for non-compliance are severe, so it's important to stay informed and take measures to ensure the functionality of your emergency lighting systems.

Take action today - start preparing now for any emergency situations in your building!