Does Your Business Have Adequate Emergency Lighting?

You might have an office building. You might have a sports arena. You might have a restaurant or shopping center.

But what if something goes wrong at your place of business? What if there is a fire? Or what if the power goes out due to a storm or other reason?

People might get scared. They might get confused about what to do or how to get out. They might panic.

All public buildings must have an unobstructed means of egress that lets people easily exit the building in case of emergency. But how can people get out if it’s dark and they can’t see where they’re going?

What’s the Purpose of Emergency Lighting?

An emergency lighting system provides one or more sources of illumination even when the power goes out, so that people can escape the building and make their way to safety.

It is required by the NFPA’s Life Safety Code and the International Building Code, but specific requirements may vary depending on state or local regulations where you live.

Emergency lighting serves many purposes:

  • It facilitates emergency egress
  • Reduces the risk of panic
  • Helps exit large numbers of people during an emergency
  • Provides minimum required visibility during a power outage
  • Helps occupants, personnel, and emergency responders locate firefighting and safety equipment
  • Helps appropriate personnel to shut down equipment or operations that may be hazardous if abandoned

Where Should You Install Emergency Lighting?

Backup lighting should be located in areas that are essential for safe exit and emergency response:

  • Exit access pathways leading to exits
  • Exit stairs
  • Aisles
  • Corridors
  • Ramps
  • Exit discharge pathways
  • Different jurisdiction have different rules for illumination and spacing

Emergency lighting also includes illuminated exit signs. NFPA 101 Section 7.9.10 details the following requirements for exit lighting:

  • Internally lit or externally lit
  • May not be spaced more than 100 feet apart
  • Must be readily visible from all directions
  • Internally lit exit signs must be periodically tested

How Does Emergency Lighting Work?

Emergency lights must be connected to a secondary source of electricity in case the main power is cut.

  • Emergency light source. Emergency lights may be battery-powered or connected to an alternate power source such as a generator.
  • Power requirements. In the event of a power outage, the secondary source must turn the emergency lights on within 10 seconds, and must maintain minimum levels of illumination for at least 90 minutes.
  • Illumination level. Illumination refers to the level of light falling on a surface and is measured along the path of egress at floor level. Both the NFPA and IBC codes require an average of 1 foot candle of illumination for 90 minutes. Illumination should be spaced to provide adequate lighting throughout the entire path of egress.
  • Annual and monthly testing. The NFPA requires monthly testing for a minimum of 30 seconds for emergency lighting systems, along with an annual functional test of 90 minutes for battery-powered systems. All emergency light testing must be documented in writing. In addition, emergency lights should be tested in cases of tenant turnover or building remodels.

What Are the Legal Requirements for Emergency Lighting?

There are many applicable codes that determine proper emergency lighting:

  • International Building Code (IBC)
  • NFPA 101: Life Safety Code
  • NFPA 70: National Electrical Code
  • NFPA 110: Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems
  • NFPA 111: Standard on Stored Electrical Energy Emergency and Standby Power Systems
  • NFPA 99: Health Care Facilities Code

In addition, different jurisdictions may have different rules at the state or local levels. If you are planning new commercial building construction, you must complete a comprehensive code analysis to address emergency lighting needs.

Keeping track of emergency lighting regulations can easily become overwhelming. That’s why it’s wise to hire a certified electrician who knows the rules to help you design, install and test emergency lighting.

Do you have questions about emergency lighting for your place of business? Contact Complete Electrical Solutions. Our experts will help you navigate the regulations, and more importantly, ensure the safety of your employees and patrons in the event of an emergency.

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