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Emergency lighting: major legal changes ahead

Jun 14, 2005
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Impending legislation will abolish fire certificates and place responsibility for fire safety squarely on employers’ shoulders. Chris Watts, Standards Consultant for Cooper Lighting and Security, looks at the impact these changes will have on emergency lighting and identifies the opportunities that will be created for contractors.

Following a consultation period of more than six years, the long awaited Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order, or RRO, is currently going through the Parliamentary processes required to make it law, and detailed requirements will be issued during 2005. The main aim of the RRO has been to reduce confusion by consolidating and rationalising the multiple, overlapping fire-safety provisions currently scattered across more than a hundred statutes and secondary legislation.

The two most significant pieces of legislation to disappear will be the Fire Precautions Act 1971, which first introduced the system of fire certificates, and the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997, or FP(W)R. The new legislation will, in effect, abolish fire certificates for all but the highest-risk premises and replace them with a fire-safety regime along similar lines to that demanded by the FP(W)R, i.e. a regime based on risk assessment, with responsibility for the fire safety of occupants resting with the designated ‘responsible person’. Usually this will be the employer, but it could also be the building owner or any other person who exercises control over the premises.

The RRO will apply to the majority of workplaces in the UK, including the voluntary sector and self-employed people with premises separate from their homes. Whereas in the past, workplaces only needed a fire certificate if more than 20 people were employed, compliance with the RRO will be mandatory for all premises where there are any employees at all. And wherever there are five or more employees, formal records must be kept.

Responsibility

As well as encompassing many more premises than the old system of fire certificates, the RRO will mark a fundamental shift in responsibility for fire safety. Currently, the fire authority determines the level of protection needed in a building, carries out an inspection of the system after installation and then issues a fire certificate; in cases of alleged non-compliance, it is up to the fire authority to prove that the building is unsafe.

Under the new legislation, however, the employer or building operator will be legally responsible for fire safety and will have to be able to demonstrate that the premises are safe. Fire officers will no longer routinely visit the vast majority of buildings to verify that the correct procedures have been followed – the responsibility will rest squarely on the employer’s shoulders.

Risk assessment

In this new regulatory climate, every ‘responsible person’ will have to carry out a fire risk assessment of their site and develop policies and procedures to ensure that all fire safety equipment is ‘adequate’ and that it is maintained in good working order by a ‘competent person’. In this context, ‘adequate’ means that the equipment must comply with current standards, and a ‘competent person’ is someone who has the appropriate training, experience and knowledge to carry out the work.

These requirements will apply even if the premises already had a fire certificate. In most cases, existing fire certificates will no longer be valid, and fire precautions will have to be updated to bring them into line with the latest standards.

All of these changes are likely to have a considerable impact on the provision of emergency lighting. Whereas previously, employers and building operators were often happy to accept the lowest-cost solution as long as it satisfied the fire officer’s commissioning inspection, the new legislation makes them responsible for ensuring not only that adequate emergency lighting is installed in their premises but also that it is regularly maintained and tested.

Conviction for non-compliance could result in a hefty fine or imprisonment for up to two years, and the prospect of such penalties will undoubtedly help to motivate the responsible person to choose high-quality products offering proven performance, long life, simple test procedures and easy availability of service replacements. The bottom line is this: if the equipment does not work, the responsible person will be just as guilty as if the equipment had not been installed at all.

Product quality

It is likely, therefore, that employers and building operators will increasingly demand evidence of the quality and performance of the emergency lighting systems they are purchasing. This is particularly true now that the cost of installation is often higher than the cost of the luminaire itself. The simplest way to satisfy such demands is to choose luminaires that are registered with ICEL, the manufacturers’ trade organisation.

As well as requiring luminaires to be photometrically tested by the BSI, ICEL registration verifies that luminaires comply with the BS EN 60598-2-22 product standard for emergency lighting and that they have been manufactured under an ISO 9000 quality system.

If a product satisfies these standards, the responsible person can be confident that it uses the highest quality components and will provide a long, trouble-free life. In addition, all ICEL registered luminaires are supplied with easy-to-use spacing tables, which provide the authenticated photometric data required to confirm the acceptability of the design.

Lighting levels

Every emergency lighting scheme must be designed in accordance with the BS 5266 Part 1 (1999) Code of Practice and must ensure that lighting levels meet the requirements laid out in BS 5266 Part 7/EN 1838 (1999). To be able to discharge their legal liabilities under the RRO, employers will have to ensure that the required light levels are achieved throughout the full design life of the scheme. But without third-party verification of product performance, it would not be possible to do the initial design or to have confidence that the correct lighting levels are being achieved, unless the luminaires’ performance could be verified by difficult on-site light measurements.

Regular testing

As well as ensuring that the emergency lighting has been designed and installed in accordance with current standards, the responsible person must see that it remains fit for purpose throughout its life. To that end, all emergency lighting should be maintained in line with the manufacturers’ instructions and regularly tested in accordance with the requirements of BS 5266-1.

At present, this standard calls for a monthly functional test not exceeding 25% of the rated duration, a six-monthly test of at least one hour for a three-hour rated system, and, after the first three years, an annual test for the full rated duration. However, BS 5266-1 will be revised in the near future to bring it into line with EN 50172, which has no requirement for a six-monthly test but does require the full duration test to be carried out annually, even in the first three years. Test results should be recorded in a log book, together with details of any remedial work that may be needed.

Manual tests

While it is possible to carry out the tests manually, this approach is fraught with potential problems. In the first place, manual testing presupposes that the building has been equipped with test switches, the location of which is known to the designated competent person. This is not always the case.

Then there is the inconvenience resulting from the need to carry out tests at times of low risk. Full discharge tests, in particular, should be carried out when the building is empty, but buildings such as old people’s homes are rarely, if ever, unoccupied.

As for the test itself, the competent person has to stay in the building when everyone else has gone home, switch off the mains power and then walk around the building to check that every emergency fitting is still working 3 hours later. When the test is complete and the power is restored, the competent person should then walk around the building again to ensure that all luminaires have been correctly reactivated.

Employers may be responsible for ensuring that testing has been carried out, but how can they be certain that it has been done correctly? In short, manual testing is an onerous, time consuming and expensive task, with no guarantee that the work has been performed satisfactorily.

Automatic systems

For these reasons, many more employers and building users are likely to adopt automatic testing systems for emergency lighting. Designed to automatically execute the test regimes required by BS 5266-1 and EN 50172, these systems ensure that warning is given when batteries need replacing and check at the correct intervals that the luminaires are working satisfactorily, thereby increasing safety levels as well as enabling significant time and cost savings to be made.

From the employer’s point of view, the task is reduced to periodic checking of the indicators on a central panel or on individual luminaires and making a note of the results, so the ‘competent person’ need no longer be a qualified electrical contractor but can be any trustworthy employee.

At first glance, this would appear to be bad news for contractors. However, the fact of the matter is that full manual testing of emergency lighting is rarely carried out, so contractors are unlikely to lose much work through the use of automatic systems. On the contrary, since many more defective luminaires are likely to be identified by the automatic systems, contractors may well find that they are increasingly in demand as the ‘competent person’ needed to rectify the faults.

Automatic systems are available in several versions to suit different requirements. The more sophisticated systems on the market provide a facility for printing out the test results either on a dedicated thermal printer linked to a central panel or via the user’s own PC, and some systems can even diagnose which part of the circuit has failed - thereby speeding up the rectification of any faults. Top-flight systems offer a choice of Windows-based packages for managing larger installations, ranging from simple, text-driven site-monitoring software to advanced graphical control systems.

Whichever approach is adopted, it is vital that any defects identified by the test procedure are put right as quickly as possible. Although emergency lighting systems are designed so that there are at least two fittings per ‘compartment’, even a single faulty emergency fitting must receive immediate attention because a second failure could render an escape route useless.

Understanding the changes

It is important for contractors to understand the implications of the forthcoming RRO legislation, for two main reasons. Firstly, although it will primarily be the designated responsible person who will be liable for prosecution if premises fail to comply, the enforcing authority – usually the local Fire Brigade - will also be empowered to take action against contractors if they are deemed to have been negligent.

Secondly, many employers will be looking to contractors for advice about the acceptability of existing installations. Contractors should be able to provide initial guidance but may need to contact the luminaire manufacturers for the original photometric spacing tables to confirm whether the installation is adequate or needs upgrading.

The RRO represents a major change in fire safety law. As employers become aware of the need to review and upgrade their emergency lighting systems, new business opportunities will inevitably be created for contractors.

Biography

Chris Watts is Standards Consultant for Cooper Lighting and Security. He is chairman of the ICEL technical committee and British Standards Committees CPL34/9 and CPL34/4-2 responsible for the code of practice and luminaire standards for emergency lighting. Within Europe he is convener of CEN 169 WG3 for emergency lighting levels (BS 5266pt7/EN 1838) and Cenelec 62/8 central systems product standard (EN 50171). He is also convener of the IEC committee reporting to TC 34, which has produced the draft of IEC 62034 Ed 1: Automatic test systems for battery powered emergency escape lighting.