I listened to the news recently and heard about another major fire in London. Thankfully at the time of writing there we no reported deaths or major injuries but the trauma those individuals must have faced will be life changing.
Thankfully I have never experienced a fire in a building but have been evacuated from a few over the years, due in part to the false triggering of smoke detectors by some selfish or often drunken individual thinking they could smoke in their room.
The sound of the fire alarm going off in the early hours of the morning is terrifying and when you’re tired and just woken from sleep the whole experience can be very disorientating. Its only in these moments of fear and disorientation that you truly appreciate how valuable lighting is in providing a safe escape route from your room to a safe area outside the hotel.
Now imagine, this is no false trigger, but a real event and power has been cut and smoke is billowing along a corridor. The sense of fear and dread has been notched up to way beyond the red zone and you are now in panic mode.
In the dark we can easily become disorientated and the ringing of an alarm in the background may mask instructions from individuals trying to direct people; so how do you know where to go and where the exits are.
Thankfully it’s a legal requirement to have in place measures to combat such a situation and The Regulatory Reform order for Fire 2005, places the responsibility for ensuring building are safe on the Building owner or the Tennant managing that space. It’s all about Risk and having carried out a Risk assessment the developer, contractor and occupier will put in place a system that will provide safe egress from a building in the event of an emergency.
There is guidance on lighting levels and the location of emergency lighting laid out in standards such as BS EN 5266-1:2016, which provides guidance on the provision and operation of emergency lighting as well as BS EN 1838 Lighting Applications emergency Lighting which gives guidance on lighting levels, duration and colour , etc, other standards apply for the luminaire and central battery systems.
These and other standards define the size and location of emergency exit signs and provide information on the level of illumination from an emergency luminaire whilst in emergency mode. Different lighting levels will apply depending on the Risk associated with the task being performed or location, trip hazards for example. Additionally, standards such as BS EN 62034:2012 Automatic test systems for battery powered emergency escape lighting provide a framework for testing to ensure your emergency lighting is present and operating.
This then brings us to the title of this blog “Repair, Review & Re-test”.As I have highlighted there is implicit a duty of care that states your building must be safe but does the owner or Tennant of that building understand their obligation. They are not experts and assume that the building they are leasing, or purchasing is compliant and sadly this is not always the case.
Firstly, if the project is design and build and no client has been found then the emergency lighting will often be based on an open plan approach with no consideration as to the furniture layout or cellular office space. Once the client occupies the space is the emergency lighting still compliant: it needs to be reviewed and who is responsible for this?
Secondly, during the construction phase emergency lighting is often value engineered and product sourced based on price rather than performance so is the scheme viable: it certainly isn’t if another product is used that doesn’t match the electrical and photometric performance of the scheme designed product.
Thirdly and this is when we start to get into the area of repair. Maintenance is critical for any emergency lighting system as it has to work, otherwise lives are at stake and perhaps one of the greatest scandals in emergency lighting is maintenance; lack of it and poorly implemented.
All electronics have a failure rate as do batteries so you will have issues over the life of your building and ensuring the emergency lighting is operating properly is key to keeping people and property safe.
I won’t focus on the poor performing low cost emergency offers in the market today, if you’re using them, then I urge you to rethink your policy and work with a recognised manufacturer rather than source a product based on cost alone, rant over!
If a component fails in an emergency luminaire, be this a dedicated emergency exit sign or standalone luminaire or indeed a conversion the system of driver, light source and battery have been engineered to work as a closed system. The approvals such as the basic CE marking or kite mark have been based on these key components as selected by that manufacturer to optimise the performance of their luminaire.
Change any one of those components and your emergency luminaire is no longer compliant. A classic example with emergency lighting is the replacement of batteries. If you do not replace the batteries with the original manufacturer’s battery, then whoever changes the batteries must re-submit the luminaire for testing.
Batteries sold independently as replacements for emergency lighting often have different electrical and thermal properties so maintenance engineers or electrical contractors who swap out batteries should include provision for re-testing of the converted luminaire and re-label accordingly as the CE mark is no longer valid.
So, you have repaired a faulty luminaire and the review has thrown up issues that perhaps we have ignored for so many years. Therefore, you might ask, why is this an issue now? This is a complex one but let’s try and break it down into two parts.
Battery technology has evolved dramatically, and LED’s have revolutionised the way in which we manage emergency lighting. Standalone non maintained emergency LED light sources will last the life of the luminaire and form factor has dramatically reduce the size of the electronics and batteries. Chemistry has also had an impact and the use of technologies such as Lithium has many advantages providing the cell is matched to the circuit and the appropriate variant selected. A low-cost battery has no onboard protection circuit and may use a volatile chemistry. Charging regimes vary between the different chemistries so matching system requirements becomes ever more critical.
Testing is another important factor and the rise in use of automatic test systems has highlighted non-conformances so batteries that don’t meet duration will be seen as a failure whereas in the past a simple key switch test was usually sufficient to get a sign off.
The re-test is critical to ensure compatibly between system components and the only way to truly prove that a system is functioning correctly is to undertake a full discharge test. Automated test systems will undertake these tests and provide a clean bill of health with time stamped testing records that can be backed up remotely. A key switch test isn’t sufficient to confirm compliance especially if there is a potential compatibility issue?
So, in Summary
Maintenance is essential to ensure your emergency lighting is fit for purpose. Replacing components with OEM approved parts is crucial and any deviation from this would invalidate the CE mark as a minimum and in some instance could make the emergency lighting potentially dangerous.
Automatic testing is the key to managing emergency lighting as this is the only truly independent way to validate test date. No manual test, however competent the engineer may be can match the audit trail left by an automated system.
Review at every stage and especially at the Design stage as any major change in operation requires some form of review. Hopefully using this approach and managing replacement components we can build a stronger more professional emergency lighting market.
Stewart Langdown FSLL