Emergency Lighting

Last updated: August 26, 2019

What Does Emergency Lighting Mean?

Emergency lighting refers to battery-backed or otherwise independently powered light sources that are designed to activate when a power outage creates low-visibility conditions in a workplace.

The use of emergency lighting is a mandatory requirement of modern commercial and residential building codes. Many building codes also require the installation of emergency lighting as a retrofit for older buildings.

Safeopedia Explains Emergency Lighting

Emergency lighting is installed in such a manner so as to guide workers safely toward the exit of a building. Depending on the nature of the building and the potential hazards and obstacles that could interfere with a worker's ability to make a safe exit, this could involve using lights to highlight the exit or to provide low levels of illumination throughout the building. In certain occupational situations, such as in commercial aircraft, floor-level emergency lights may be used to help guide individuals toward an exit.

In the United States, OSHA recognizes the National Fire Protection Association Life Safety Code (101) standards for emergency lighting as providing instructions for how employers can meet their general duty requirements for ensuring a safe workplace. These standards require that all exit routes, including aisles, corridors, and the like, have emergency lighting.

OSHA standard 1910.34 describes an exit route as a “continuous and unobstructed path of exit travel from any point within a workplace to a place of safety (including refuge areas).” In the event of an outage, emergency lighting must activate automatically during a power failure and must be able to last for at least 90 minutes. OSHA and NFPA codes also prescribe regular maintenance and testing of emergency lighting requirements, including a monthly inspection and annual test per NFPA 101, to ensure that they remain in proper working order.

Emergency lighting codes also specify that exit signs must remain illuminated in the case of a power failure, either by external emergency lighting or by an emergency light source that is intrinsic to the sign itself. In some cases, this lighting may be provided by non-battery sources such as photoluminescence (glow in the dark).

Emergency lighting in workplaces is a topic for which standards from numerous non-occupational regulatory agencies must be taken into consideration. In addition to NFPA codes, there are local building codes, the International Building Code, and International Fire Code standards that should be accounted for by the persons responsible for ensuring safety in their workplace.


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