Shedding Light: The importance of fully compliant emergency lighting – monthly column featured in Sparks Electrical News (Crown Publications)

Do you remember the awful fires at Grenfell Tower in London, United Kingdom in June 2017; the Marco Polo condominium fire in Honolulu, Hawaii in 2017; the shopping ,all fire in Kemerovo, Russia in March 2018; the Claremont Hotel fire in Eastbourne, England in November 2019 and the Bank of Lisbon building fire in Johannesburg in November 2019?

The significance of each of these fires was that there was loss of life as a result. Most important is that in each case, the investigators found that the emergency lighting did not function, was non-existent, or as in the case of the Bank of Lisbon building fire, the building had failed the safety inspection and nothing had been done to rectify the faults or problems that had been found.

These incidents should have prompted our lighting design community, which includes lighting designers, consulting electrical engineers and mechanical fire engineers, to spring into action. This action could have been revisiting completed projects to ensure that the emergency lighting was fully compliant and then to ensure that all future projects would also always be fully compliant. I have personally received a number of calls and emails from engineers to clarify various aspects about the subject of emergency lighting. Whilst I was encouraged to be asked, I was probably more alarmed at the serious lack of understanding and knowledge about this extremely important subject. It prompted me to ask: “What have they not been doing for so long?”

Let’s look at the basics There are two principal guiding documents. They are the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Act 85 of 1993 where the specific requirements are detailed in The Environmental Regulations for Workplaces, Section 3: Lighting and then SANS 10114-2: Interior Lighting: Part 2: Emergency Lighting. These documents are one with each other and have a singular purpose irrespective of the fact that they may be dated and require urgent updating specially to bring them into line with modern technologies and international standards.

How is Emergency lighting defined in SANS 10114-2?

Here is the source of the problem. Many engineers place great weight on the fact that there are two definitions in the same standard, but without a clear separation of purpose. Emergency Lighting is defined as “lighting provided for use when the supply to normal lighting fails.” A sub-definition then is “Emergency Escape Lighting is that part of emergency lighting that provides illumination for the safety of people who are leaving a location in the premises or who are attempting to terminate a hazardous process before leaving the process.” And then much further down the list of definitions: “Stand-by lighting is the non-mandatory part of emergency lighting that is provided to enable activities to continue substantially unchanged.” It is precisely the definitions that give rise to the idea that if some form of alternative power source such as a generator or Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) will sort out both situations. This is where those with that idea fail the test dismally.

As you can see, the diagram does make a clear distinction between the two types of Emergency Lighting. My suggestion to the Working Group of the Standards Committee is that they should rewrite the header definition instead so that it addresses both Emergency Escape and Stand-by Lighting. As it stands it is incorrectly interpreted by engineers.

How does Section 3: Lighting of the Environmental Regulations for Workplaces address this subject?

“With a view to the emergency evacuation of indoor workplaces without natural lighting or in which persons habitually work at night, every employer shall, in such workplaces, provide emergency sources of lighting…” Now here is something that is very interesting. The word ‘shall’ in such regulations implies that an employer has no choice in the matter. Well, throughout the world, it has now been replaced with the word ‘must’.

The great language minds stated that the word shall still afforded the employer a choice whether to do what was stated or not. Before I continue, our practise is always to include emergency escape lighting unless a fire engineer is part of the project design team, in which case, we wait until the fire engineer provides us with the emergency escape route which forms the basis of his fire protection and prevention plan. It is important to remember that a lighting engineer is not an expert in fire protection and prevention measures.

The emergency evacuation route must be clearly marked with the direction of evacuation and of course must provide safe exit via emergency fire doors rather than through doors which might be locked and thus prevent safe evacuation. More recently one of the fire engineers even suggested using a centralised battery system for emergency lighting. That would not provide for any redundancy in cases where for example fire might consume such areas or the cabling/wiring to the emergency luminaires. I do not intend writing or repeating standards or regulations in this article, but rather aim to focus the attention of professional engineers on this vitally important element of the lighting design for any project.

Finally, I remind your readers standards and compliance are important. They are written to ensure that the correct lighting is provided to illuminate the task area, but also to protect the occupants during emergencies such as fires or natural disasters. When reading both the SANS and applicable regulations, study and analyse the detail contained in the pages. I always teach my students that “the devil is in the detail”. I am always prepared to provide advice and assistance to readers.

Philip Hammond is the Director and Principal of BHA School of Lighting which offers a variety of courses from entry level Foundation Lighting right through to Advanced Diploma and Master Diploma in Illumination Engineering Courses. Other courses include Photometry, Lighting Economics, Relux Lighting Design Software courses, and more. Visit:


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