Emergency lighting

A REPORT from Hilclare found that 44% of English firms ‘don’t have the correct’ emergency lighting, with prison sentences ‘a real consequence of poor emergency lighting practice’.

In a press release, Eaton shared the 2020 report, which found that 44% of English firms ‘don’t have the correct emergency lighting’, as well as noting a 2018 report that revealed ‘over a third’ of the country’s social housing tower blocks have ‘inadequate’ emergency lighting’. A survey of 1,584 blocks found - 40% of the country’s entire social housing stock – saw 402 blocks, or 25%, admit there were ‘missing or broken’ emergency lighting on resident escape routes.

Eaton warned that prison sentences ‘are a real consequence’ of ‘poor emergency lighting practice’, with fines ‘growing in their severity’, and it shared discussion on the topic between its field product manager for lighting Anthony Martindale and fire safety consultant Chris Watts, who is also chairman of the British Standard committee responsible for BS 5266-1: 2016 Emergency lighting. Code of practice for the emergency lighting of premises.

The company also shared that between 2006 and 2009, defendants in legal cases relating to fire safety breaches were convicted of 1,904 charges, with 443 or 23% of these relating to article 14 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO], which covers emergency routes and exits. Additionally, multiple occupancy premises represented 17.5% of the national cases prosecuted, with article 14 ‘the most enforced’ article within the FSO.

Among high profile cases involving emergency lighting were the prosecution of the owner of the New Kimberley Hotel in Blackpool in 2015, with the owner given an 18 month prison sentence for breaching the FSO and ‘no proper emergency lighting cited as one of the breaches’. A Cardiff care home operator was also fined £400,000 in 2020 due to breaches including ‘deficient’ emergency lighting, alongside a Lincoln landlord fined the same amount in 2018 over lighting in their property.

Finally, a Yorkshire hotel owner was fined over £50,000 for breaches in 2018 that included ‘a failure to monitor and maintain’ emergency lighting, with Mr Martindale commenting: ‘Emergency lighting in a building can quickly fall out of compliance due to damage, lack of testing or maintenance and shifting regulation.

‘A “fit and forget” mindset is at the heart of why outdated and faulty emergency lighting systems are so prevalent today. Compliance often falls between the accountability cracks, particularly as building owners and facilities managers frequently employ third parties to test and rectify issues with emergency lighting systems – washing their hands of the upkeep, yet remaining accountable for compliance in the eyes of the law.

‘Sub-standard emergency lighting systems could lead to inefficient evacuation during an incident – bringing about injuries or worse still, loss of life. Yet in addition to the potential human impact, there are financial consequences. While the use of fire safety equipment can aid in the reduction of insurance premiums, it can also have the opposite impact when done incorrectly.

‘Insurance companies can use non-compliance with fire safety orders as a reason for not paying out. Beyond this, the reputational impact must be considered – from putting off potential employees and customers to impacting share prices. To avoid the variety of consequences that come with outdated emergency lighting, a series of best practice initiatives can be followed.

‘First, an up-to-date risk assessment must be kept for all buildings and needs to be updated on a regular basis in order for your building to comply; this will determine the type of emergency lighting system required. The ultimate goal of fire specific risk assessment is to identify and mitigate the number of fire hazards in a building.

‘It is performed by an assessor who considers all the potential dangers within a premise. Naturally, the risks identified should be balanced by appropriate fire protection systems to both meet regulation standards and ensure fire safety shifts from afterthought to fundamental safety requirement.’

Mr Watts added: ‘Facilities managers are responsible for the safety of occupants in their premises so they have a duty to check the competence of fire safety providers when sourcing help to protect their building. Given that facilities managers are unlikely to be experts in building and fire safety standards, the recommendation is always to verify that their suppliers have a third party certification that is appropriate and valid for the work required.

‘Sadly, it is all too easy for those without experience of fire safety and protection to put their faith in individuals without the right qualifications or competencies – leading to inadequate equipment being installed or a lack of suitable testing and maintenance. BAFE – the independent registration body for third party certified fire protection companies across the UK – is a useful starting point for anyone wanting to meet their legal duty of safety.

‘By going through the independent register of quality fire safety service providers, facilities managers can find independently audited and competent professionals able to help them meet their fire safety obligations. Emergency lighting legislation in the UK is fit for purpose – if followed! Sadly, all too often it is just not implemented correctly. For example, the principal of fire risk assessments is much more suitable than blanket rules which may be inappropriate for particular applications.

‘When done correctly by qualified individuals, fire risk assessments provide a measured response to risk levels. However, they only work when implemented correctly. This means not only ensuring the assessment is carried out by individuals with the right training, but also proceeding with the correct level of follow-up in terms of inspections, maintenance and – when required – repairs. Incidents occur when the initial assessment falls short, or follow-up is inadequate. 

‘Unfortunately many individuals take a short-term view when considering fire safety. Investing in quality equipment solves the problem in the long-term, yet many are swayed by the false economy of opting for the lowest cost deal to tick a box at a moment in time. If they choose substandard systems and don’t engage certified professionals to do the installation, they usually end up paying more in the long-run to replace or repair faulty technology.

‘Furthermore, if an incident occurs and the individual responsible for the building has clearly not done their due diligence, that false economy becomes even more pronounced as they are hit with major fines – or even a prison sentence. Ultimately, fire safety should never be viewed as a short-term problem to be solved for the minimum cost.

‘Until that short-term mindset evolves into a longer term view which prioritises safety and considers total cost of ownership rather just the initial price tag, we will continue to see substandard equipment installed, a lack of appropriate maintenance and, sadly, peoples’ lives needlessly put at risk.’

If you require support developing your organisation's evacuation strategy, contact our team at technical@thefpa.co.uk