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Emergency lighting

Buildings can be plunged into darkness if there is a power failure, which might be caused by the outbreak of fire within the building or because of an electrical fault far away from the premises.  People must be able to find their way out of the building safely, which is why emergency lighting is used in many public spaces and workplaces.

Emergency lighting can be in the form of self-contained or central battery systems which are a part of the electrical installation, but even the smallest of premises can have emergency lighting through torches and similar equipment which is readily available on the high-street.

Emergency lighting requirements

The emergency lighting that you provide in your Church or Place of Worship depends on the size of the building, along with some other factors, including: 

  • How many people use the building;
  • If the building is in use at night time;
  • Locations within the building where there are no windows to let in outside light;
  • The availability of 'borrowed' lighting from, say, street lights.

Consideration also needs to be given to those hazards that would be made worse by a power cut, including dangerous machinery or areas (such as boiler rooms) and places that could pose a serious safety hazard, such as steps and stairs.  These hazards might also be present outside the building, which also needs to be considered.

After this assessment, it might be the case that there is no need for emergency lighting.  Typically, this is an appropriate outcome if the building is never used in the night and there are windows to let in natural light, meaning that no person would be in any danger if the lights went off.

Emergency Lighting Types

In small Places of Worship where a few people meet, a handful of torches which are kept in convenient places (such as next to the organ, in the pulpit and near exit doors) might be accaptable.  Some torches types have a charger which plugs into a mains socket, and these torches usually come on automatically when the mains power fails and would be preferred to other torches.  Small fluorescent torches might provide a better distribution of light than a normal torch.

Self-contained emergency light fittings contain a battery charger, a rechargeable battery and a light source, which is usually an 8-watt fluorescent tube. Some units contain two spotlights, and these are ideal for taller rooms or large spaces (such as many Churches and Cathedrals), where it is not otherwise practical to install emergency lighting.

Emergency lighting units are available in two broad categories:

  • Non-Maintained.  These only light when the power goes off and will usually last for 3 hours. These would be in addition to the existing lighting.
  • Maintained.  These lights can be on all of the time, such as those lights that show up an exit sign.  Sometimes, these types of light can be turned on and off with a switch, but would still automatically light whenever the power goes off regardless of the position of this switch.

Most of the time, non-maintained units would be installed. Maintained lights should usually be installed for exits and exit signs as a preference to non-maintained fittings if the room is used in darkness (such as for a theatrical or film presentation).  As a minimum for Churches and Places of Worship, emergency lighting should last for 3 hours in a power failure, but other time durations might be desirable.

Note that it is not usually considered acceptable to use real flame (candles, oil lamps and suchlike) as an emergency lighting source.

Where to install fittings

The main purpose of the emergency lighting is to ensure people can find an exit or fire exit safely.  Emergency lights should be installed along corridors, on stairs, near fire exits and fire extinguishers or fire alarm call points as well as at exit doors. The area directly outside of the final exit door should also be lit up by an emergency light.

Additional emergency lighting is usually necessary in larger rooms, within disabled toilets, near electrical fuse boxes, fire alarm control panels and anywhere else where people could be in danger in a power cut or might need a source of lighting.  Even if there is emergency lighting installed, a number of torches can be useful, perhaps to aid premises evacuation or for someone to turn on the power after it has tripped.

It is not always practical to install standard emergency lighting because the installation might affect historic building features. In such cases, specialist advise should be sought on the use of "central battery" systems and fibre-optic "way guidance" systems.  Central battery systems operate from a central charger unit, which means the light fittings themselves might be smaller. In a similar fashion, fibre optic systems operate from a central light unit, with small optical fibres directing the light to places where it is needed.


All emergency lights need to be checked from time to time. For lights that are on all the time, which are known as maintained lights, you should check that the unit is lit every time you use the building as part of the standard opening-up routine.   In any case, all lights have a power on or charging light, which is often red on older units and green on newer ones.

All mains powered units need to be tested for a functional test for about 10 minutes every month. A duration test is required every twelve months.  It is usually recommended that a competent service company undertake a service regime on emergency lighting to ensure its effectiveness.

Lamps  also be changed from time to time, especially maintained units and those that see significant use (such as those in a rural setting prone to many short-duration power cuts).

Switches are usually wired into the lighting circuits to help test the emergency lights. Often a special key is used, but some are operated by holding a magnet next to the light fitting and some lights have a simple push button on them. If none of these are available, you will need to turn off the lighting circuits at the mains fuse box or consumer unit.

If torches are being used, simply check the operation by briefly turning on the torch on a weekly basis and change the batteries every few months to make sure that they are not going to be flat when you need to use them.  With rechargeable torches, the batteries should be replaced every few years as the ability for a battery to retain a full charge diminishes with age.

Make a note of when emergency lights have been tested and checked (a note book could be used for this). Also, make a note of anything that did not work properly when it was tested along with what you have done (or are going to do) to fix any problems, signing off repairs when they have been completed satisfactorily.

Additional Information

A competent person should be consulted about the installation of emergency lighting. It is recommended that all emergency lighting systems fulfil the requirements set out in British Standard BS5266.

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