Your Guide to Emergency Lighting for Commercial Buildings

Key Points

Ensuring your emergency lighting system is fully operational can keep your staff safe in the event of an emergency. On this page, we share the basic information about emergency lighting but it is important to note these are only for the England regulations, and other regions may be different.

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What is emergency lighting?

Emergency lighting can be defined as: The lighting which automatically comes on when the mains power fails, as it is run from a separate battery.

Different forms of emergency lighting can perform different functions within the system:

  • Emergency Escape Lighting- Fairly self-explanatory, they are the lights which help people safely exit a building or location.
  • Escape Route Lighting- Lighting which points to the exits and means of escape.
  • High Risk Task Area- This is lighting for areas where potentially dangerous processes or situations might be performed, and enables proper shut-down procedures.
  • Open Area/ Anti-Panic Lighting- This is installed to minimise panic, such as in lifts or stairways.
  • Standby Lighting- Not a legal requirement, but this allows normal activities to run practically unchanged from the normal lighting.

What are the main modes of emergency lighting operation?

There are two main modes of operation for emergency lighting, maintained or non-maintained.

  • Maintained- This is emergency lighting which is always on, such as in a cinema.
  • Non-Maintained- This is emergency lighting which only kicks in when the mains power fails.

The choice between the two is up to the discretion of the person in charge of the emergency lighting, based on what the premises require.  If you are unsure about which kind of lighting should be installed it is always best to consult a specialist.

What duration does emergency lighting need?

Emergency lighting should be able to last for 3 hours, especially if people cannot immediately evacuate, like in a sleeping accommodation or hotel, or if the building is going to be immediately reoccupied.  The minimum requirement for emergency lighting, if the evacuation is immediate and the building not reoccupied until full lighting capacity has been restored, is one hour.

How to test your emergency lighting

Manual or Automatic ?


This is where one competent person is in charge of ensuring the correct checks happen.  Manual checks involve isolating the circuits you want to check and then walking around the whole area to check all the lights are working correctly. Then the person switches them off and then walks around again to make sure they are restored and set back to charging mode.  This should be staggered so not all the lights are being tested at the same time as the is time-consuming for the people checking, and can cause major disruptions.

The problem with this kind of system is that it does leave room for human error, as the people may forget to set the lighting back to charge, which can cause major problems such as the lights not working if there is an emergency, and is very time-consuming.


These can come in many varieties but the basic idea is that the emergency lighting system self-monitors its parameters such as the status of the mains supply, and reports back any disruptions or faults.  This still has to be manually recorded but can save time.


Although the regulations for inspecting emergency lighting has changed, not everyone knows or is reporting these changes. This is the new three-stage structure:

Daily- This only applies to systems with one central back-up battery.  Daily, visual checks should be made to ensure the lights indicate that the central power supply is operational.

Monthly- This check is an overview to make sure the lights are present, clean, and functioning correctly, and to implement action if these standards are not met.  This can mean putting the emergency lights to test mode, switching off the mains power supply, and checking the emergency lights with a walk past.

Annually- This is a test which lasts the full duration (3 hours).  The lights should still be functioning throughout and after this test, and if they fail the battery should be replaced.

All these inspections need to be recorded in a logbook as evidence of the checks being done.  As there is a risk of the mains power failing directly after a check when the emergency lights haven't had time to charge, try to limit the checks to low-risk times.  Also, don't do a full system check if people need to be in the building before the batteries have had time to re-charge, which typically takes 24 hours.

If you are unsure about anything to do with emergency lighting, it is always best to consult an expert as they can give you specific information and advice.

Good questions to ask and check are where to place the lights to ensure safety, and the degree of illumination you need, as this is based on the size and the occupants of the building.

You can view our range of emergency lighting here and if you have any questions, just contact the team on 0113 8876270 or email

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