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Fire and light

Anthony Martindale, Field Product Manager, Lighting, Eaton asks, why are outdated and/or substandard emergency lighting systems so common in the UK?

Despite previous studies highlighting the dangerous gaps in emergency lighting, it still remains an issue. According to a 2020 Hilclare(i) report, 44 per cent of firms in England don’t have the correct emergency lighting. In 2018, Inside Housing revealed(ii) over a third of England’s social housing tower blocks have inadequate emergency lighting. In a survey of 1,584 tower blocks – 40 per cent of the country’s total social stock – a total of 402, or 25 per cent, had missing or broken emergency lighting on the residents’ escape routes.

The danger is that emergency lighting in a building can quickly fall out of compliance due to damage, lack of testing or maintenance and shifting regulation. A ‘fit and forget’ mindset is at the heart of why outdated and faulty emergency lighting systems are so prevalent today. Compliance often falls between the accountability cracks, particularly as building owners and facilities managers frequently employ third parties to test and rectify issues with emergency lighting systems – washing their hands of the upkeep, yet remaining accountable for compliance in the eyes of the law.

So other than the potential human impact, what kind of consequences are there for non-compliant emergency lighting in a building? Sub-standard emergency lighting systems could lead to inefficient evacuation during an incident – bringing about injuries or worse still, loss of life. Yet in addition to the potential human impact, there are financial consequences. While the use of fire safety equipment can aid in the reduction of insurance premiums, it can also have the opposite impact when done incorrectly. Insurance companies can use non-compliance with fire safety orders as a reason for not paying out. Beyond this, the reputational impact must be considered – from putting off potential employees and customers to impacting share prices.

To avoid the variety of consequences that come with outdated emergency lighting, a series of best practice initiatives can be followed. First, an up-to-date risk assessment must be kept for all buildings and needs to be updated on a regular basis in order for your building to comply; this will determine the type of emergency lighting system required. The ultimate goal of fire specific risk assessment is to identify and mitigate the number of fire hazards in a building. It is performed by an assessor who considers all the potential dangers within a premise. Naturally, the risks identified should be balanced by appropriate fire protection systems to both meet regulation standards and ensure fire safety shifts from afterthought to fundamental safety requirement.

ASK THE EXPERT

Chris Watts is a Fire Safety Consultant, BAFE(iii) Board Member, Chairman of British Standard committee responsible for BS 5266-1 (code of practice for emergency lighting). As convenor, he introduced CEN EN 1838, CENELEC EN 50171 and 50172 European emergency lighting standards(iv) and is recognised as an industry expert on their development. Here, he explains how facilities managers can meet their legal duty of safety.

“Facilities managers are responsible for the safety of occupants in their premises so they have a duty to check the competence of fire safety providers when sourcing help to protect their building. Given that facilities managers are unlikely to be experts in building and fire safety standards, the recommendation is always to verify that their suppliers have a third-party certification that is appropriate and valid for the work required.

“Sadly, it is all too easy for those without experience of fire safety and protection to put their faith in individuals without the right qualifications or competencies – leading to inadequate equipment being installed or a lack of suitable testing and maintenance. BAFE – the independent registration body for third party certified fire protection companies across the UK – is a useful starting point for anyone wanting to meet their legal duty of safety. By going through the independent register of quality fire safety service providers, facilities managers can find independently audited and competent professionals able to help them meet their fire safety obligations.”

IS THE CURRENT EMERGENCY LIGHTING LEGISLATION IN THE UK FIT FOR PURPOSE?

“Emergency lighting legislation in the UK is fit for purpose – if followed! Sadly, all too often it is just not implemented correctly. For example, the principal of fire risk assessments is much more suitable than blanket rules which may be inappropriate for particular applications. When done correctly by qualified individuals, fire risk assessments provide a measured response to risk levels. However, they only work when implemented correctly. This means not only ensuring the assessment is carried out by individuals with the right training, but also proceeding with the correct level of follow-up in terms of inspections, maintenance and – when required – repairs. Incidents occur when the initial assessment falls short, or follow-up is inadequate.”

WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO SEE A SHIFT TO PRIORITISING SAFETY WHICH MEETS – OR EVEN EXCEEDS – STANDARDS?

“Unfortunately, many individuals take a short-term view when considering fire safety. Investing in quality equipment solves the problem in the long-term, yet many are swayed by the false economy of opting for the lowest cost deal to tick a box at a moment in time. If they choose substandard systems and don’t engage certified professionals to do the installation, they usually end up paying more in the long-run to replace or repair faulty technology. Furthermore, if an incident occurs and the individual responsible for the building has clearly not done their due diligence, that false economy becomes even more pronounced as they are hit with major fines – or even a prison sentence.

“Ultimately, fire safety should never be viewed as a short-term problem to be solved for the minimum cost. Until that short-term mindset evolves into a longer-term view which prioritises safety and considers total cost of ownership rather than just the initial price tag, we will continue to see substandard equipment installed, a lack of appropriate maintenance and, sadly, peoples’ lives needlessly put at risk.”

About Sarah OBeirne

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