In the aftermath of Grenfell, social housing landlords are having to re-evaluate the safety of all their high rise, multi-tenancy properties. While minimising risks, such as cladding, is a major priority, critical to getting occupants out of the building quickly and safely in an emergency is the need for better emergency lighting. Here, we discuss how modern, LED emergency lighting offers the most effective solution.
The need for better emergency lighting
Emergency lighting not only needs to guide occupants out of a high-rise building quickly and safely; it also needs to let emergency service teams in to rescue anyone that can’t get out and to deal with issues like fires. Evacuating a multi-storey building via a succession of stairwells when lighting is poor increases the risk of people tripping, bumping into each other and falling downstairs, impeding the evacuation. When occupants include those with disabilities, the old, the very young and in many cases, people carrying family pets, the emergency lighting system needs to be fully effective to minimise further risk.
A major challenge for local authorities and housing associations is to make sure that all emergency lights are working properly across their estates – for some, this includes many high-rise towers. With large numbers of emergency lights to manage and maintain, carrying out monthly tests to comply with regulation is a significant burden on their time, especially when maintenance teams are required to take care of numerous other issues with the properties.
Grenfell has put the spotlight on the safety of high-rise accommodation and local authorities and housing associations face increased scrutiny and negative publicity if there are failings. When it comes to the installation and testing of emergency lighting, landlords need to comply with stringent regulations. These include BS5266, which specifies the types of emergency lighting required, where it must be installed and how long the lighting must stay illuminated for during an emergency.
Regulations also stipulate how frequently testing must take place. Full inspections, which must be carried out by a suitably approved electrical contractor, need to take place annually, while each emergency light has to have a functioning test once a month. Social landlords must also keep accurate records of the tests they have conducted and of all maintenance work carried out. Failure to comply may lead to fines or prosecution.
The benefits of LED emergency lighting
LED emergency lighting and its advanced control systems make testing, maintenance and compliance less of a burden for social landlords and also reduce costs. Each LED emergency light unit provides the necessary illumination required for evacuations (the minimum is 1 Lux) and contains an internal battery that will provide backup power should the connection to mains electricity be lost. With LEDs using significantly less energy than other types of emergency bulbs, the batteries are able to maintain illumination for longer than the minimum time regulations require.
With regard to testing and maintenance, LED bulbs have a lifespan far greater than either incandescent or fluorescent lights, lasting for approximately 50,000 hours. This means replacement is needed less frequently and with large numbers of emergency lights to look after across housing estates, the time and budget needed to install new bulbs are reduced.
Modern emergency LED units also have built-in self-testing features that have been developed to check that the unit’s key components, its bulb, charger and battery, are operating correctly. Should an issue be detected, indicator lights on the units will flash, with the pattern of flashing indicating exactly which component is the problem. This provides maintenance teams with a visual signal that tells them exactly what the problem is. As a result, the time needed to carry out monthly functioning tests is substantially shortened. Instead of testers having to put every unit into outage mode, they only need to look for flashing indicator lights to see if a unit needs attention.
The most advanced LED systems, however, provide even greater benefits. Here, the built-in self-testing features are connected to a centralised control system, enabling local authorities and housing associations to unify the emergency lighting across all their estates into a single system managed from a central control dashboard. If there is a problem, not only will the unit’s lights flash; the information will be communicated to the dashboard and maintenance teams will be notified immediately of the problem. By enabling issues to be rectified as soon as they happen, rather than waiting up to a month for the next visual inspection, these systems provide a potentially lifesaving advantage over other types of emergency lighting.
With housing predicted to be responsible for 95% of built environment emissions by 2050, social landlords are also under increasing pressure to make their properties more energy-efficient. LED emergency lighting can help with this too. It uses up to 80% less energy than other types of emergency lighting and, as a result, cuts CO2 emissions by the same amount. An added advantage is that the energy costs for emergency lighting are slashed by up to 80% as well.
LED emergency lighting provides social landlords with the opportunity to make high-rise buildings safer for residents while reducing the testing and maintenance burden on staff. At the same time, it makes the properties more sustainable and less expensive to run.
For more information, visit our LED Emergency Lighting page.