Emergency Lights: Top 10 things you need to know

emergency lighting Memphis
November 3, 2023

Emergency Lights are critical safety devices designed to provide illumination in case of a power outage, fire, or any other emergency. They are essential to emergency preparedness in various settings, including residential, commercial, and industrial environments.

Here are the top 10 things you should know about emergency lights:

  1. Purpose: Emergency lights serve several essential purposes, including:
    • Illuminating exit routes during power failures or emergencies to help people safely exit a building.
    • Providing visibility for emergency personnel to perform their duties effectively.
    • Reducing panic and confusion in low-light or no-light situations.
  2. Types of Emergency Lights:
    • Exit Signs are familiar green or red signs with the word “EXIT.” They indicate the nearest exit and should always remain lit.
    • Exit Combo Signs: These fixtures are the same as exit signs but have the “frog eye” lights on either side or a light bar stretching across the bottom (light pipe combo).
    • Emergency Lighting Fixtures: These fixtures provide general illumination during emergencies, such as wall-mounted or ceiling-mounted lights with backup power sources.
  3. Power Sources: Emergency lights typically have two power sources:
    • Main Power: Connected to the building’s electrical system.
    • Backup Power: Often provided by batteries or generators to ensure illumination during power outages.
  4. Self-Testing: Many modern emergency lights are equipped with self-testing features to check their functionality and better diagnose any issues regularly. If the light fixture isn’t always lit up (think exit sign or ceiling panel light), it will come on during the self-test and potentially bring attention to it. You never want to place a self-testing emergency light in a church sanctuary, movie theatre, or other venue where it could cause a distraction. This wouldn’t apply to an exit sign because the exit sign is continuously illuminated. Note: the self-testing feature helps the inspector with his inspection but doesn’t replace the need to inspect each month.
  5. Regulations and Codes: Building codes and regulations vary by location and type of building, and they often dictate the placement, type, and maintenance requirements of emergency lights. Compliance with local codes is essential to ensure safety and avoid legal issues.
  6. Placement: Emergency lights should be strategically placed in areas such as hallways, stairwells, exits, and any other location where people may need to navigate during an emergency. Exit signs should be visible and adequately always lit. Try envisioning all parts of your facility where a person could be and picture the power going out. Would they be able to make it out safely from that point? If not, you have a potential liability. Frequent trouble spots are stairwells, fire pump rooms, and bathrooms.
  7. Battery Life: The battery life of emergency lights can vary depending on the type and quality of the equipment. Choosing reliable products with sufficient battery life to provide illumination for an extended duration during an emergency is crucial. In our experience, most batteries will last 3-5 years. Lead acid batteries fall in the lower part of that range. New NICAD batteries will be in the higher end.
  8. Testing and Maintenance: Regular testing and maintenance are essential to ensure emergency lights function correctly. This includes checking the batteries, bulbs, and the overall functionality of the lights. Perform tests according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and local regulations. NFPA 101 Life Safety Code mandates that all e-lights be tested for 90 minutes once a year and 30 seconds once a month. Many places believe they are exempt from inspecting emergency lighting because they have generator backup, but the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code doesn’t allow for that exemption.
  9. Recording of Inspections: NFPA 101 mandates each inspected light to be documented as an individual unit. For example, suppose your building has 50 exit signs and 25 emergency lights. You must record 75 line items showing each emergency light or exit sign inspected, whether it passed or failed, and if it failed, what the deficiency is and what is being done to correct it.
  10. Training: Ensure that building occupants and staff know the location of emergency lights and exit signs and, most importantly, have been trained in emergency evacuation procedures.

We have been asked by building managers if they need to maintain their emergency lights because “everyone has a phone with a flashlight and can use that in an emergency”. Or, “the building is small, and there are windows, and they can just use the sunlight to evacuate safely.” While this may be true, it’s essential to realize that emergency fixtures are not only for the existing occupants but also for emergency personnel who may enter. For example, a firefighter must go to all parts of a building to ensure no occupants are trapped during a fire. The emergency lights and exit signs are as much for them as anyone else.

Emergency lights are vital for providing safe egress during power failures or emergencies. Understanding their purpose, types, regulations, and maintenance requirements is crucial for ensuring the life safety of occupants in a building.

Mid-South Safety Services has been servicing emergency lights in the southeast since 1976. We are the largest service provider in the area. Contact us for a free consultation to ensure you stay safe and compliant.