Importance of Emergency and Exit Lighting in Your Building

July 30, 2018

Despite the importance of emergency and exit lighting, this life safety system is often overlooked. Requirements state these lighting systems need regular testing or else building occupants could be left to navigate in the dark in an emergency.

Would your building be prepared in the event of a power outage? Just as seatbelts and airbags must be working properly in case of a car accident, so should alarms, extinguishers and other equipment during a fire, power outage or other disaster. However, one of the most broadly applicable – and therefore one of the foremost – life safety solutions that often goes unnoticed is emergency and exit lighting.

The U.S. experiences a higher number of long-lasting power outages than any other developed country in the world. The average U.S. power customer loses power for 3.5 hours per year, whereas in Japan the average customer experiences only six minutes of power loss each year.

When outages occur, occupants may not have confidence navigating buildings safely. Areas such as stairwells, internal offices, restrooms, storage areas and other spaces with little or no natural light can be especially difficult to navigate without functional emergency lighting, but these aren’t the only areas of concern.

Related: Beef Up Business Continuity Planning

To help protect those inside a facility, installing and maintaining emergency and exit lighting is important.

The Power of Light

A 2017 Harris Poll of 2,072 U.S. adults ages 18 and older found that more than a third (34 percent) of U.S. workers would lack confidence in their ability to navigate their workplace safely in the event of a power outage. More specifically, if a workplace power outage occurred, 50 percent of U.S. adults would lack confidence in their ability to walk up and down stairways safely.

Additionally, 42 percent would not be confident in their ability to calmly execute their workplaces’ emergency plan.

The results of the poll show that people regard lighting as an important safety resource when a building goes dark. Emergency lighting helps people to see clearly, avoid obstacles, locate equipment and navigate effectively throughout a building during a power outage.

Facility managers should prepare buildings for unexpected events like power outages, whether the outage is caused by a fire, severe weather, faulty power grid equipment or another unpredictable issue.

Lighting the Way to Safety

Despite the importance of emergency and exit lighting, it is often overlooked once these devices have been installed within a facility. If these units don’t function when they’re needed most, building visitors and occupants are left in the dark.

Property owners and managers are responsible for scheduling and/or performing maintenance of their illuminated emergency exit signs and lights. Best practices for maintenance include:

  • Visually inspecting equipment on a regular basis. Look for loose or exposed wiring and make sure it is secure. Ensure that units are mounted to the wall or ceiling securely.

  • Conducting regular inspections. Depending on the jurisdiction, emergency and exit lighting must undergo a functional test every month. These tests are designed to check for physical damage to the exterior of the lights and to help verify that the lights are functional at the time of the test.

  • Conducting a full functional test. Depending on the jurisdiction, organizations may be required to ensure lights function under battery power for an extended period. Follow required testing procedures and check to ensure all lights remain lit under DC power. Repair or replace units that don’t function correctly for the duration of the test.

  • Maintaining diligent records of inspection. Written records of inspection tests should be kept by the building owner for review by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Any lights that were not able to be tested should also be documented by location, including the reason a test could not be completed.

Emergency and Exit Lighting: A Bright Solution 

Power outages occur more frequently in the U.S. than many building owners and managers realize. The five-year annual average of reported outages doubled every five years from 2000 to 2014 – meaning the 2014 annual average is four times what it was 15 years ago.

Installing and properly maintaining emergency and exit lighting will help provide occupants a way to safely exit a building or navigate to an area to seek shelter in the event of an emergency. Outsourcing equipment testing, inspection and repair to an experienced provider can help simplify the process and help you satisfy applicable local standards.

On topic: Are You Testing Emergency Lighting?

When it comes to building safety, functioning emergency lights are important – and organizations should prioritize them, along with other elements of their life safety system.

Taylor Brummel is a marketing manager with Cintas Corporation, a leader in fire protection products and services. To learn more about emergency and exit lighting, visit

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