Emergency and exit lighting standards

Clevertronics Pty Ltd

Monday, 01 December, 2014


Standards provide confidence that the goods and services they relate to are safe, reliable and will do the job intended. They protect Australian tradesmen - builders, electricians, plumbers, their customers and importantly, the end users. This article provides insights on emergency and exit lighting standards and why it is important to comply.

A suite of standards governs the emergency lighting industry - AS and AS/NZS 2293 parts 1, 2 and 3, that address the design and installation of an emergency lighting system in a building, the system’s maintenance requirements and the performance requirements of the products that make up these emergency lighting systems. As in many other industries, these standards specify the minimum requirements in each of these three areas: installation, maintenance and product design, and are constantly reviewed to ensure their prevalence, relevance and positive impact on industry.

Emergency and exit lighting is an essential life safety device, and non-compliance with regulations regarding its correct installation and maintenance jeopardises the safety of building occupants. Exit and emergency lighting must be tested, inspected and maintained according to the relevant procedures outlined in AS/NZS2293 Part 2 1995 (including 1998, 2008 and 2012 amendments). However, a surprising number of people are not aware of their exposure to significant penalties for non-compliance with regulations regarding exit signs and emergency lighting.

Penalties are imposed for non-compliance with the proper installation and maintenance of exit and emergency lighting, on building owners, building managers and employers, under work health and safety (WHS) laws, OHS legislation (which applies in Victoria and Western Australia where the WHS laws have not been adopted) and under state building regulations. The standards governing emergency lighting have been in circulation since the late 1970s, and the importance of compliance in emergency lighting is not a new or inconsequential issue. Emergency lighting and exit signage are essential to ensure safe egress by building occupants when the normal lighting fails, including during a fire or other crisis.

The right product selection can have a significant effect on both the compliance outcome and the cost to the end user. When selecting a product, it is important to ensure that the product has been tested in accordance with AS2293.3, Emergency escape lighting and exit signs for buildings. For an emergency escape luminaire or exit sign to be approved for use in Australia, it must be submitted for a series of tests as defined by AS/NZS2293. The following is a brief overview of the testing process:

  1. Thermal or duration test that sees the luminaire undertake a series of charge and discharge cycles at low and high temperatures.
  2. A photometric test that measures the light output in emergency mode of the luminaire - in most cases this leads to assignment of a ‘classification’.  This classification sets out the minimum spacing between emergency luminaires at given ceiling heights.
  3. Exit signs must also undergo a colour, luminance and format test to ensure they meet the criteria for exit signs.

The purpose of the product standard, AS2293.3, is to ensure products can be measured against a minimum set of performance criteria giving the installer, maintenance contractor and end user confidence the product is fit for purpose.

The testing and subsequent maintenance of emergency lighting poses a significant cost to the end user, particularly when emergency luminaires and exit signs are installed in locations that are difficult to access and not conducive to easy maintenance. There are a number of important factors to consider when making decisions about the best ways to service and maintain an emergency lighting system. These include:

  • choosing the right replacement product that complies with the standard, AS2293.3 and delivers the longest possible maintenance free interval;
  • reviewing the installed location and relocating difficult to access fittings;
  • upgrading to smart testing solutions to reduce the burden of the manual testing process.

The industry has long battled the high cost of maintaining emergency luminaires, especially battens where the battery is typically located within the fitting. The resulting heat exposure on the battery reduces its life to as short as 2-3 years. Many consulting engineers have recognised this issue and we have seen a move to designs incorporating two separate fittings, one for general lighting and one for emergency lighting to ensure batteries are not exposed to external heat sources. However, this involves installing more fittings whereas the industry would rather install fewer fittings and save money.

It is not often discussed, but there are two levels of performance within existing NiCd and NiMH battery emergency lighting products - the exit and LED emergency luminaires versus the battens. Table 1 demonstrates the impact of the shorter service life of the batteries in battens and the resulting cumulative replacements over time.

Clevertronics, a manufacturer and distributor of exit and emergency lighting products, has a range of products that are energy efficient and environmentally friendly. The company’s lithium range of products uses lithium iron phosphate battery technology, long-life LEDs and power supplies engineered to outlast the LEDs and battery. The Clevertronics lithium range of battens sees the battery located within a thermal isolation POD removing the battery away from the heat source, extending battery life 3-4 times that of a conventional emergency batten.

Compliance in emergency lighting is about testing and maintenance - through life - and when designing new installations, the design should consider how the luminaires and systems are to be maintained to achieve such compliance. Australian Standards form a significant part of the compliance process addressing the installation, maintenance and specific product requirements and assisting designers, contractors and end users in making decisions by ensuring there is a minimum benchmark. Standards, however, are not the only consideration, as they do not assess the different outcomes achievable between products that meet the same standard. The cost of compliance for emergency lighting is often not considered at the design stage. However, with the right information, decisions about product location and performance can be made that profoundly impact the cost of maintaining the emergency lighting system, resulting in a lower total ownership cost and giving the end user the ultimate outcome - ongoing compliance at the lowest overall cost.

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