In an emergency, a well-lit building can suddenly become dark and disorientating, which could make evacuation difficult, especially for visually impaired people. This is why emergency lighting designed for wayfinding must be in place to ensure the rapid and safe evacuation to a place of safety.
In an interview with Workplace Law, Dr Geoff Cook, Director of the Research Group for Inclusive Environments at the University of Reading, advised that in an emergency situation, the most common type of lighting is strips of light emitting diodes (LEDs), which can be laid in tracks that mark the boundaries of corridors, can go around exit doorways, and do not cause too much glare. He also stated that as they are very bright compared with the background, “we found from our studies that visually impaired people are able to see these tracks and use them very effectively”.
Other areas to consider are:
- Designing a route that isn’t continuously lit, because when people move into dark spots, whether they have good vision or not, they become disorientated.
- Avoid setting wayfinding lighting some distance above the floor, as it makes the floor appear closer than it really is.
- Ensure the edges of steps and ramps are clearly lit as otherwise people may be unaware of where they end.
Signage should be adapted to assist both sighted people and those with visual impairments, and should be:
- Well lit (either self-lit or lit by external lighting);
- Large enough, with the signs themselves – the letters and the background – contrasted; and
- Mounted at eye level and mounted on walls where there is a contrast.
Emergency lighting guidance
The current guidance on emergency lighting is in BS 5266: Emergency lighting.
Part 1 of this Standard implements EN 50172 and is the Code of Practice; Part 7 is the UK implementation of EN 1838. Other parts of the Standard cover specific issues such as wayfinding and further parts are in preparation.
Especially important is regular planned maintenance and testing of emergency lighting, and this is provided for in the Standards.
Inside and out
Emergency lighting should include luminaires outside the final exit to the building to assist adaptation to outside night-time lighting levels. This is particularly important for the elderly and the visually impaired. The SLL has published Lighting Guide 12: Emergency Lighting Design Guide, which covers all aspects of emergency lighting from design to maintenance.
Exterior lighting of areas such as public car parks and access roads, including those in shopping centres, is covered by BS 5489-1 Code of Practice for the Design of Road Lighting.