It is likely that more than 95% of businesses require emergency signs and lighting.  Many businesses think they don’t need these measures as they are only small, but even an office with a couple of rooms requires some sort of emergency route indication.

The European Workplace Directive states that emergency routes and exits requiring illumination MUST be provided with emergency lighting of adequate intensity in case the lighting fails.

Emergency lighting is that which activates when the main power to a building has been lost.  These lights show the exit route of the building and should be bright enough to allow people to find their way easily out of the building.  As mains power fails could be due to a power cut or even a fire, sudden darkness could cause danger to the people inside.  For those businesses that only operate during day time hours, this does not excuse you from providing emergency lighting, as there are many hours, particularly in Winter, which would be classed as darkness.

Emergency lighting systems are similar to fire alarm systems in terms of design, specification and certification so it is advised to get a specialist to assess your premises and supply you with the appropriate system.  There is no set rule for the number of emergency lights needed in a premises as there are many factors to consider.

The most common emergency lighting errors are:

  • Failing to place lights externally over escape doors
  • Insufficient number of lights/signs on stairs and corridors

These signs should clearly define the route including any changes of direction or level.  Directional arrows alone are not sufficient.

Emergency signs and or lights should be placed:

  • Near stairs and other changes of level
  • Near each exit door
  • Near changes of direction
  • Near each intersection of a corridor
  • Near each piece of firefighting equipment or call point (push button alarms, break glass, extinguishers, hoses)
  • Near each first aid point

There can be some confusion with emergency signs as there are several formats available within the UK.  Members of the Industry Committee for Emergency Lighting (ICEL) are trying to introduce a single format for use in all buildings, but this is yet to be decided on.

The 3 formats currently used in the UK are:

BS5499 pictogram signs – showing a green man on a white door and a white directional arrow.  This can also include wording such as “fire exit”.  Although these signs are legal, they should only now be used if you are expanding on a building which already includes these signs.

Health and Safety ‘Signs Directive’ or European signs – showing a white man on a white door with a white directional arrow and no wording.  These signs are legal but should not be used along with any other format.

ISO 16069 sign – a green man on a white door with a white directional arrow and no wording.  Again, these signs should not be mixed with any other sign format.
This format has been the primary format used since 2011.

Text only signs have not been legal since the changes in 1998.  These signs should have already been replaced.

The ‘Sign Directive’ format and the new ISO sign may be similar in look, but there are key differences which you should be aware of.

  • Remember that the ISO has a green man and the ‘Signs Directive’ one has a white man.
  • On the ISO sign, a directional arrow facing up means “straight on”, but on a ‘Signs Directive’ sign this means just “go through this way”, there could be a change of direction soon after.
  • The ISO sign also allows the use of supplementary information, for example, diagonal arrows to indicate directions up or down stairs and text to distinguish between normal exits and fire exits.

Emergency lights can combine with signs, creating route directions that are much easier to see from a further distance, but it will depend on your premises if these are best for you.  In most cases the signs used on emergency lights are in the ‘Signs Directive’ format (white man on white door).

Common errors in emergency signs are:

  • Mixing formats of signs.  This can cause a lot of confusion as some of the signs have different meanings.  Always stick to one sign format in your building.
  • Using “exit” signs on fire exit doors, and “fire exit” signs on regular exits.

Remember, an exit route is the route that occupants use daily to come in and out of the building and are most familiar with.  A fire exit route is an alternative route provided only for use in emergencies.

Due to the variations of signs, it is advised that all staff and occupants of your premises are aware of what the emergency signs mean and that someone is on hand to inform any visitors in the case of an emergency.

Particularly at this time of year when you are out at more parties and events in various restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, it’s a good idea to stay aware.  A quick look on entering a new building to identify your nearest fire escape route could save you if an emergency was the break out while you were there.  Often people will naturally gravitate to the way they came in, but the fire escape route could be must nearer to you and less crowded.

The escape route also doesn’t end when you reach fresh air.  Remember to carry on to the safe assembly point.  These routes should also be safe and clear, so keep outside exits free or obstruction and uneven or slippery ground.

For more information on what Fire Risk Assessments and Emergency Lights services we can offer here at Keybury, visit our information pages, download our free resources or get in touch with our office through the contact details provided.