Most commercial buildings meet current safety codes for exit and emergency lighting. But does that make them safe? Given the recent state of catastrophic events in the United States, that answer may be “no.” Existing codes do not begin to reflect the state-of-the-art in building safety. Current technology has far surpassed many state and local codes; it’s recommended that building owners be proactive and go beyond minimum code requirements to make their buildings as safe as possible.
Many building owners and managers want to do everything they can to maximize safety in their facilities, but don’t know where to begin. For these facilities professionals, some specific suggestions follow:
LED Exit Signs. Exit signage is required by code above all doorways, corridors, and other exits. But, in the case of fire, smoke rising to the ceiling can often block these signs. Consider installing additional exit signage at floor level. The Quincy, MA-based National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends mounting these low-level signs between 6 and 8 inches from the floor. It’s also suggested that emergency signage “speak” the same language as your patrons. For example, if your clientele is predominately Spanish-speaking, additional exit signs that read “salida” can (and should) be installed.
Alternative lighting sources can provide long-lasting, energy-efficient emergency lighting and signage that offers solid-state reliability and requires less maintenance and less battery draw from back-up sources. Exit signs that employ LEDs (light-emitting diodes) as a light source have a significantly longer lifespan than conventional lights and present less chance of failing at a critical time. In addition, the use of LEDs provides uniform illumination - which testing has shown increases visibility and readability.
“Smart” Emergency Lighting. State-of-the-art technology has provided us with several “smart” options for emergency lighting and exit signs. Safety product maintenance can be a time-consuming and expensive part of operation, with codes requiring system testing every 30, 60, or 90 days. Self-diagnostic features available today monitor battery voltage, lamp continuity, incoming utility power, and unit performance every 10 seconds, alerting you to a component problem almost immediately.
LED Pathway Lighting & Step Lighting. Movie theaters are an excellent example of how to use pathway and step lighting to safely exit people from a dark room. Equipping your business with such features increases the chance that people will be able to leave the premises safely.
Ballast Switches. Ballast switches essentially turn everyday fluorescent lighting into emergency lighting. Emergency ballasts are compact battery packs that snap into your existing features. If power fails, each ballast will provide 90 to 120 minutes of emergency runtime for either one or two lamps. When installed along corridors or other key escape paths, this lighting will afford your patrons invaluable visibility to exit safely.
A good place to evaluate your current safety program - or implement a new one - is with the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 101®: Life Safety Code. Visit (www.nfpa.org) for more information.
Robert P. Cross is president at Providence, RI-based Mule Lighting (www.mulelighting.com).