Safest People, Safest Places

Emergency Escape Lighting


The primary purpose of emergency escape lighting is to illuminate escape routes but it also illuminates other safety equipment.

BS 5266, when referring to the provision of Escape Lighting requires that when the supply to all or part of the normal lighting in occupied premises fails, escape lighting is required to fulfil the following functions: -

  1. To indicate clearly and unambiguously the escape routes.
  2. To provide illumination along such routes to allow safe movement towards and through the exits provided.
  3. To ensure that fire alarm call points and fire-fighting equipment along escape routes can be readily located.
  4. To permit operations concerned with safety measures.

The size and type of your premises and the risk to the occupants will determine the complexity of the emergency escape lighting required. Borrowed lighting may be suitable in small premises where the light is from a dependable source, e.g. street lamps, and it will adequately illuminate escape routes. Where borrowed lighting is not suitable, then a number of torches, in strategic positions, can be considered.

Single ‘stand-alone’ escape lighting units may be sufficient in small premises and these can sometimes be combined with exit or directional signs. The level of general illumination should not be significantly reduced by the sign.

In larger more complex premises a more comprehensive system of fixed automatic escape lighting is likely to be needed. This will be particularly true in premises with extensive basements or where there are significant numbers of staff or members of the public.

You will have identified the escape routes when carrying out your fire risk assessment and need to ensure that they are all adequately lit. If there are escape routes that are not permanently illuminated by normal lighting, such as external stairs, then a switch, clearly marked ‘Escape lighting’, or some other means of switching on the lighting should be provided at the entry to that area/stairs.

Location of Emergency Luminaires

An emergency escape lighting system should normally cover the following:

  • each exit door;
  • escape routes;
  • intersections of corridors;
  • outside each final exit and on external escape routes;
  • emergency escape signs;
  • stairways so that each flight receives adequate light;
  • changes in floor level;
  • windowless rooms and toilet accommodation exceeding 8m2;
  • firefighting equipment;
  • fire alarm call points;
  • equipment that would need to be shut down in an emergency;
  • lifts; and
  • areas in premises greater than 60m2.


Exit doors

Escape signs

External doors/routes

Stairs (each tread)

Changes of direction

First aid post

Change of floor level

Intersection of corridors

Firefighting equipment/alarm call points

Lifts Toilets

Escape routes

It is not necessary to provide individual lights (luminaires) for each item above, but there should be a sufficient overall level of light to allow them to be visible and usable. (This normally means the luminaire should be within 2m of the equipment/hazard, measured horizontally).

When the points of emphasis have been covered, it is essential to provide any additional luminaires required to ensure that minimum luminance levels are met to enable the routes to be used safely. In addition, every compartment on the escape route should have at least two luminaires, to provide some light in the event of luminaire failure.

Emergency escape lighting can be both ‘maintained’, i.e. on all the time, or ‘non-maintained’ which only operates when the normal lighting fails. Systems or individual lighting units (luminaires) are designed to operate for durations of between one and three hours. In practice, the three-hour design is the most popular and can help with maintaining limited continued use of the premises during a power failure (other than in an emergency situation).



sample image of luminaires

Emergency escape lighting (luminaires) can be stand-alone dedicated units or incorporated into normal light fittings. There are highly decorative versions of these for those areas that demand aesthetically pleasing fixtures. Power supplies can be rechargeable batteries integral to each unit, a central battery bank or an automatic start generator.

To complement emergency escape lighting, people, especially those unfamiliar with the premises, can be helped to identify exit routes by the use of way-guidance equipment. Way-guidance systems usually comprise photo-luminescent material, lines of LEDs, or strips of miniature incandescent lamps, forming a continuous marked escape route at lower level. These systems have proved particularly effective when people have to escape through smoke, and for partially-sighted people. They can be particularly useful in premises where they can provide marked routes on floors and in multi-storey premises they can direct people to escape routes which are seldom used.

If you decide that you need to install emergency escape lighting or to modify your existing system, any work should be carried out by a competent person in accordance with the appropriate standards. Further guidance is given in BS 5266-1 and BS 5266-8.


Maintenance and testing of emergency escape lighting

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires that appropriate testing is performed to maintain compliance of the system. The system should include adequate facilities for testing and recording the system condition. These need to be appropriate for the specific site and should be considered as part of the system design.

Most existing systems will need to be manually tested. However, some modern systems have self-testing facilities that reduce routine checks to a minimum.

Depending on your type of installation you should be able to carry out most of the routine tests yourself. The test method will vary. If you are not sure how to carry out these tests you should contact your supplier or other competent person.

Test facilities often take the
form of a ‘fishtail’ test key
inserted in a special switch
either near the main fuse
board or adjacent to relevant
light switches.


Typically, testing would include:

  • a daily visual check of any central controls;
  • a monthly function test by operating the test facility for a period sufficient to ensure that each emergency lamp illuminates; and
  • an annual full discharge test.

Particular care needs to be taken following a full discharge test. Batteries typically take 24 hours to re-charge and the premises should not be re-occupied until the emergency lighting system is fully functioning unless alternative arrangements have been made. See BS 5266-827 for more information.

It is good practice to keep a record of tests – a fire safety logbook is commonly used for this purpose.


Example of system design

Locate luminaires (X) at points of emphasis on escape route.

a. At each exit door

b. To illuminate exit and safety signs

c. Near call points (some covered by a.)

d. Near each staircase

e. Change of direction (covered by b.)

f. Near fire fighting equipment (covered by a.)

g. Change of floor level

h. Near intersection of escape routes

i. Outside final exits

k. Near first aid points


Other areas, which require emergency lighting but are not on the escape route area.

1. Lift car

2. Toilet (above 8m2 floor area)

3. Escalators

4. Plant room

Anti-panic open areas (x) apply to any areas over 60m2 floor area, or that have an escape route passing through them.

High risk lighting requirement for an acid bath (m) is included in the design.

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