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Bridging the gap

22 July 2021

‘Bridging the Gap Between Fire and Emergency Lighting Systems’ served as one of the latest webinars to run in Fire Safety Matters’ ongoing series. Taking place on Thursday 10 June at 10.30 am, the event was chaired and moderated by Mark Sennett (CEO at Western Business Media). Brian Sims outlines the main takeaways from the online session

IAN WATTS is chair of the Fire Industry Association’s (FIA) Emergency Lighting Working Group. He’s vice-chair of the Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting at the Lighting Industry Association. He serves as the convenor of CEN Technical Committee 169 Working Group 3 focused on emergency lighting in buildings which is leading the revision of EN 1838 to align its content with the EN 50172 application standard. He’s the FIA’s UK representative in relation to BS 5266-1 (the Code of Practice for Emergency Lighting) and delivers training for the FIA and the British Fire Consortium.

In short, webinar chair Mark Sennett couldn’t have chosen a more knowledgeable individual to lead off a discussion about how the sector might ‘bridge the gap’ between today’s fire and emergency lighting systems. Watts’ own father Chris has been chair of the BS 5266 Committee for some time now. For his part, his son was keen to deliver some insight into how the FIA is supporting the development (and benefits) of standardisation in this area.  

“We need to develop and grow the contextual understanding that emergency lighting is a life safety system and a fire safety system,” enthused Watts. “I’m very confident in the work of the FIA’s Emergency Lighting Group. It can work alongside the Association and, potentially, seek to lobby Parliament on the area of strict compliance. At the moment, it’s not illegal to fit non-certified, non-approved emergency lighting. That cannot be right.”

Showcasing a slide on Foundation Course standards for emergency lighting, Watts stated: “The important factor for me, and I hope for diligent individuals in the market, is compliance with EN 60598-2-22 [the product standard for emergency luminaires]. Sadly, there’s a lot of product that’s ‘designed to meet the requirements of’ or is ‘manufactured in accordance with’. That’s not the same as ‘certified to’. I would always heavily promote the benefits of a life safety or fire safety product of this nature that strictly meets the requirements laid down by the standard.”

Revision is due     

EN 1838 stipulates the European light levels for the market. Those levels are being revised across the next 12 to 18 months which will then facilitate a direct uplift and alteration of BS 5266. The current version of the latter stems from 2016 so a revision will, according to Watts, be due in two years’ time.

In addition to fostering the belief that training on emergency lighting to prove competency is “vitally important”, Watts is also a strong supporter of new technology in this specialist field. To this end, there’s a dedicated Technical Forum within the CEN Technical Committee 169 Working Group 3 looking specifically at dynamic safety signage systems.

Drilling down to specifics, Watts observed: “I’m not sure whether a lighting level of one lux along the centre line of the escape route is enough, but the standard stipulates/recommends/dictates that light level. I would perceive this to be a bare minimum. Ultimately, it’s all about a suitable fire safety risk assessment being conducted.”

Watts assisted with the drafting of BS 7273 Part 6, the Code of Practice for the Operation of Fire Protection Measures (and which is itself an interface standard). “With the help of Colin Todd of C.S. Todd & Associates – the leader and driver of the development of PAS 79 when it comes to suitable fire safety risk assessments – we’re now seeing this brilliant document that aligns the interface of systems. We’ll then be confident that we have the correct lighting set-up in an emergency situation.”

Enhanced safety

Having concluded his scene-setting delivery, Watts handed the presentation reins to Matthew Jones (emergency lighting business manager at webinar sponsor Advanced) who proceeded to expertly explain why and how the integration of fire and emergency lighting systems offers greatly improved safety for building occupants in an emergency.

During a thought-provoking delivery, Jones covered a range of topics including automatic addressable lighting systems, the ability to apply cause and effect to emergency lighting and, importantly, dynamic safety signage systems.

Focusing initially on the legislative requirements, the main focus here is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, the Fire (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Fire and Rescue Services (Northern Ireland) Order 2006.

“The Fire Safety Order applies to the majority of all non-domestic premises with certain exceptions,” opined Jones, “among them construction sites. Generally speaking, if a building plays host to more than five occupants, a written risk assessment is required and the building must conform to BS 5266-1:2016 and BS 5839-1:2017, the Code of Practice for Fire Detection and Fire Alarm Systems for Buildings.”

Further to this, a building must always be safe. “If occupants are to remain on site during an electrical supply failure,” continued Jones, “they require protection. It’s the designated ‘Responsible Person’ who’s legally liable for the installation and maintenance of life safety systems.”

Often overlooked

Often overlooked despite being an essential life safety system, emergency lighting is a range of back-up lighting that, in the event of a power failure, operates fully automatically and yields illumination of a sufficiently high level that it enables all occupants to evacuate the premises safely.

As described by Jones, there are three main types of emergency lighting. The first is escape route lighting itself. This is lighting provided to ensure that the means of escape can be effectively identified and safely used by occupants of the building. The second is open area – or ‘anti-panic’ – lighting. This is provided to minimise panic and ensure there’s enough illumination to allow occupants to reach a place where an escape route can be identified.

“There’s also high-risk task area lighting,” stated Jones. “This provides illumination for people involved in potentially dangerous processes to enable proper shut down of those processes prior to evacuation of the building.”

Why do we all need emergency lighting? “First and foremost,” explained Jones, “it’s for safety. It also helps to minimise panic. Well-lit exit routes afford a clear means of escape for timely and sensible evacuation. Such lighting also assists first responders who may not be familiar with the layout of the building. Fundamentally, having emergency lighting in place is the law. It’s a legal requirement.”

On that note, there are very real consequences for breaking the law. Jones duly showed ten examples of recent court cases, some of them involving prison sentences and extremely high financial penalties. “The Health and Safety Executive continually warns that reacting after an event is simply not acceptable,” urged Jones. It’s no defence in a Court of Law, either.

In an emergency condition, the minimum lux level on the centre line of any exit route must be the one lux mentioned by Ian Watts. “As Ian said, this is the bare minimum,” concurred Jones. “There should be at least two luminaires per compartment. For open core areas greater than 60 m2, the requirement drops to 0.5 lux minimum, excluding a 0.5 metre border at the edge of the area. If an escape route runs through the open area, that route must still have one lux along the centre line. For high-risk task areas, this is calculated on a case-by-case basis on the back of a fire risk assessment. The levels should not be less than 10% of the lux levels required for the task, while the lighting level should never fall below 15 lux.”

Placement and testing

In terms of where to place emergency lighting, Jones pointed out that the ‘Responsible Person’ needs to ensure any escape route is lit correctly and in the right places, such as at every exit door or for any change of direction. “You also need to ensure that certain equipment – for example fire extinguishers and manual call points – is covered. Areas of refuge including kitchens and toilets have to be considered. Lighting levels of 15 lux would be required for reception areas or at fire control panels.”

Escape signs can be externally or internally illuminated such that they are, in Jones’ own words, “conspicuous and legible”. The former should be illuminated to no less than 5 lux on any part of the signage. “We recommend the use of internally illuminated escape signs as often as possible. Escape signs must be placed at all normal exits, all emergency exits, along escape routes and also anywhere else if the route to the nearest exit isn’t clear. The key is that signage must always be clear and feature unambiguous instructions.”

Daily testing of the emergency lighting system on site is only required if there’s a central battery system in operation. Otherwise, each luminaire must be subject to short function duration tests each month, typically lasting for ten minutes. A full-rated duration test must be carried out once every year. “Full duration tests of 180 minutes can be phased throughout the year,” said Jones, “while short duration tests are required to meet BS EN 50172:2004 and BS 5266-8:2004. Shorter duration tests reduce damage and wear to the system. The tests should be conducted outside of normal working hours and all test results recorded. Any system failures must be rectified as soon as possible.”

People can make the wrong decisions in a range of emergency situations either due to natural human behaviour or a lack of information. Even when smoke is present in a building, occupants will tend to leave via a route they know rather than the nearest exit.

“Research tells us that building occupants will react faster when presented with cues or information that interrupt their daily routine,” explained Jones. “The less dynamic the emergency system, the more it can be discounted. Better communication between systems is key. One of the main issues is that current systems don’t talk to each other.” How, then, do we bridge the gap?

Tiered solutions

According to Jones there are three tiered solutions “that grow on each other”. There’s the integrated approach. “This is where we can use existing addressable fire alarm panels and the intelligent emergency lighting system to switch on the emergency illumination. Any non-maintained escape sign will then by fully illuminated. Additional luminaires are lit specific to escape routes and there will be additional lighting in potentially smoke-filled areas.”

Encouraging occupants to follow the correct escape route is where dynamic signage comes in. “It’s all about new hardware that’s non-passive. In research conducted by the University of Greenwich, 100% of participants chose the correct escape route in a dynamic signage scenario.”

Adaptive emergency lighting is automatically triggered via the fire panel. “It successfully interrupts occupants’ routines with new information and provides clear and universally understood information. Occupants are typically twice as fast to recognise dynamic signage which guides them away from danger.”

Advanced is currently partnering with dynamic emergency exit signage specialist Evaclite to produce devices that will be fully compatible with the former’s LuxIntelligent testing system and integrate with almost any addressable fire system. These devices are set for launch later in the year.

You can watch this webinar On Demand for free by visiting https://tinyurl.com/dh3ka2vn