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The benefits of automatic emergency lighting testing

Published: 21 January 2013 - Joe Bush

Today, building owners and responsible persons must be able to prove that their emergency lighting systems work correctly as designed and must maintain them in full working order.

To achieve this, they must test to prove that the emergency lighting works properly. They must also keep records as proof that they have carried out their duty of care.

ICEL, the emergency lighting part of the Lighting Industry Association (LIA), emphasises that automatic testing can be more cost effective and reliable than manual testing, and also provides peace of mind.

The occupants of commercial and industrial buildings must, under Fire Safety legislation, be safe at all times. Virtually all such buildings will, therefore, need emergency lighting schemes that are fit for purpose in protecting them and their occupants if an emergency occurs.

Automatic testing of emergency lighting is the best way to meet Fire Safety Order obligations, and it will reduce the burden of testing emergency lighting installations. ICEL believes that Automatic Test Systems (ATS) are the best way of ensuring compliance with the required periodic testing and maintenance requirements. Consideration should always be given to installing automatic emergency lighting testing systems conforming to BS EN 62034 because of their reliability and cost effectiveness.

Why test emergency lighting?
Emergency lighting should be carefully regulated and bounded by well prescribed procedures, quality accredited devices and clearly defined boundaries. Following diligent installation to the requirements of national and international standards by suitably qualified specifiers and installers, the installed system should be tested on a regular, disciplined basis as required by EN 50172. All test results must be recorded and reported to the building’s ‘responsible person’ and any repairs or remedial work identified must be carried out within a reasonable time.

In this way, the ‘responsible person’ can ensure that all emergency escape route lighting systems within a building are performing correctly. There is little point in having an emergency lighting system unless it is clear that it will operate correctly if a mains power failure or escape need occurs.

The test requirements
It is required that every system luminaire be subjected to daily, monthly and annual testing in accordance with EN 50172. This should be conducted at a safe time and without putting people in the premises at risk if a mains failure occurs during a test. Accurate records must be kept of each inspection and test. Maintained luminaires and exit signs must be checked daily, and all self contained emergency lighting must be functionally tested typically for at least 60 seconds at least every month, and tested for full rated duration of typically three hours at least every year.

Manual testing may need several reliable and experienced technicians or trained staff. In larger buildings this can fast become really labour intensive, expensive and possibly difficult to manage. Disruption can be significant and human error can occur.

Today, in still difficult economic circumstances, and where employees’ time is under great pressure, manual checking may not always be properly completed. The result could be serious for those having trouble finding their way out of a building in an emergency because of failed emergency lighting, and for ‘responsible persons’ who have not carried out their duty of care and who could, therefore, find themselves being prosecuted.

But does this in fact happen? Unfortunately, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that a significant number of organisations and building owners are not sufficiently aware and/or disciplined about the way they test and maintain emergency lighting to the requirements laid down in the BS 5266 Series of Codes of Practice, Guides and Standards, so the requirements of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 may not always be met. If, in a building emergency, the emergency escape lighting system failed because of undetected faults, this could be a serious matter.

Given then that most building owners and occupants accept the basic principle of testing, how can one be sure that it is carried out properly, regularly, cost effectively and supported by accurate records?

The case for automatic testing (ATS) Effective automatic testing provides the answer. It is a reliable way of regularly checking that the battery is connected and receiving charge, that the lamp will strike correctly when required and that the battery can run the lamp for the rated duration. This has been strengthened by EN 50172, which re-emphasises the need for the system to be correctly tested. It also promotes the use of ATS to EN 62034, which specifies the basic performance and safety requirements for individual products and components.

As well as providing confidence that emergency lighting is adequately tested to comply with EN 50172, ATS can be more cost effective than manual testing. The capital investment is greater, but is offset by fewer testing devices needed and reduced manual testing labour.

The standard also requires that the test procedure minimises risks by testing adjacent luminaires at least 24 hours between each set of tests. For manual testing, this doubles the site time needed for full duration testing, so ATS should be the better option.

Automatic testing equipment There are two main types:

1. The self test emergency luminaire - While there are systems for every operational requirement, the simplest is the ‘stand alone’ form, which is not connected to any other device. Here the results of automatic tests are typically indicated through a single bi-colour LED on luminaires. Anyone near an emergency luminaire indicating a fault can report this to the ‘responsible person’ - corrective action must be carried out within a reasonable time. However, the ‘responsible person’ will still need to make monthly visual checks to monitor any fault indication and to ensure that emergency luminaires are un-obscured and able to carry out their intended function.

Note that the results of tests carried out using stand alone automatic test emergency lighting still need to be recorded manually into a logbook. However, the person recording information does not need to put installations into test and wait to see whether the rated discharge duration is achieved and need not be electrically qualified.

2. Automatic test systems (ATS) - To avoid manual recording, ATS interconnect to a control panel where the results are collected either via data cabling or wireless link. More complex systems allow the programming of tests from the control panel, or through connection to a PC, on which visual installation representation can be displayed, including that of connected luminaires under test and those showing faults.

Luminaire locations can be pin-pointed graphically. Some systems can be monitored and controlled via an intranet or internet connection. The ‘responsible person’ can monitor test results status using the remote panel, but the monthly walk-round check is still necessary.

Such systems can be invaluable to maintenance engineers, who can respond effectively, armed with replacement components required.

In conclusion
To ensure that manual testing is performed consistently and efficiently, and that the correct records be maintained, consideration should be given to installing an automatic emergency lighting testing system conforming to EN 62034.

If luminaire quality cannot be demonstrated by evidence of compliance with BS EN 60598-2-22, or there are particular hazards on-site, the risk assessment may need duration testing more often - this would be simple when using ATS.

Therefore, automated testing helps ensure that emergency escape lighting testing is scheduled and carried out in a timely fashion, without disrupting any other electrical services. ATS assist ‘responsible persons’ in managing premises risk, and provides early notification of failures or performance degradation.

Even the most complex systems often show payback in two to four years, so are clearly cost effective as well as being safer. Beyond the payback period, very substantial savings can be shown for building owners and facilities managers, even taking account of the routine replacement of batteries and lamps.

Automatic emergency lighting testing is, therefore, usually the better, safer and more cost effective option, providing a lower total cost of ownership as well as that essential peace of mind for building owners and occupiers in the knowledge that they have carried out their ‘duty of care’. Therefore, ICEL recommends that consideration should always be given to installing an automatic emergency lighting testing system conforming to BS EN 62034.

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