Emergency Light Testing 101 (with FREE Test Sheet

All fire safety equipment on your premises must be checked regularly to make sure that it works correctly and emergency lighting is no exception. Emergency light testing should be carried out monthly and the lights should be serviced annually to ensure that if the main power is out or in case of a fire emergency, the emergency lights will be able to safely guide people to the emergency exits. Let’s take a look at how to do emergency lighting testing right! 


What are emergency lights?

Emergency lights are designed for use in emergency situations. They are not connected to the main power supply, so they should remain visible even during power outages. If evacuation is needed, especially in the event of a fire when the amount of smoke can obstruct the visibility, the emergency lights can direct the occupants to the emergency exits. When a stressful situation like this occurs, having clear guidance reduces the probability of mass panic and facilitates smooth and orderly execution of the fire emergency evacuation plan (FEEP)

The various types of emergency lights can be defined based on their mode of operation or by their power supply source as follows:  


By mode of operation

There are three types of emergency lights based on the way they work:

  • Non-maintained: The emergency lights only turn on when the main power fails 
  • Maintained: The emergency lights switch on and off along with the normal lights in the building but they will also switch on and remain on if the main power fails
  • Sustained or Combined: Sometimes, four fluorescent tube lights can be installed in a drop ceiling. They work as normal lights on a day-to-day basis but if the main power fails, one of the four luminaires remains on. The tubes can either be non-maintained or maintained


By power source 

There are two types of emergency lights units based on the power source:

  • Self-Contained: The emergency lights are powered by a self-contained battery within the unit and rely on no external power sources
  • Slave: The emergency lights form a system of individual units  that are all powered by one large external battery as a power source


When and how to test emergency lights 

The legal requirements for emergency lighting testing under the British Standards Code of Practices for Emergency Lighting (BS 5266-1:2016) are that all emergency lights should be checked monthly by the responsible person and serviced at least once a year by a trained technician. 


Monthly Emergency Lighting Check

Emergency lights must undergo a quick switch on/switch off test every 30 days to ensure that they are all still functioning. It’s the legal duty of the responsible person to ensure this is done regularly and that the tests are well-documented. 

The monthly emergency lighting check only takes about 30 seconds or so but it may require the main power source to be switched off temporarily, so you should always give advance notice to everyone working in the building to make them aware of the scheduled disruption. 

The emergency lights test goes as follows:

  1. Flick the specialist test key switch if available, if not switch off the power using the fuse box
  2. Check whether all emergency lights are working or not
  3. Record your findings on your emergency lighting test sheet 
  4. Turn the power switch back on 
  5. Place your report in the fire safety logbook 
  6. Report any issues with the emergency lighting to the person responsible for your fire safety  equipment maintenance

Don’t forget that every time you conduct a monthly emergency lighting check, you must complete a test sheet that must be kept in the emergency lighting logbook. In case of a fire incident, this documentation can be used to prove that you had achieved regulatory compliance.  


Annual Emergency Lighting Checks

Unlike the monthly test which is very quick, the annual emergency lighting check takes up to three hours. The reason why it takes so much longer is that the battery of the emergency light should be able to keep the light on for at least three hours. The person doing the testing will switch the main power off for the full three hours to observe whether the lights will stay on as long as expected.

Because the test takes so long, it needs to be scheduled well in advance, especially if it takes place during working hours. To ensure that the emergency lights are maintained in perfect working order, as required by the British Standard code of practice (BS 5266), you should enlist an experienced fire safety professional with good knowledge of the fire safety regulations in the UK to conduct the full annual check. 

The test itself follows a similar procedure to the monthly check: 

  1. Notify the people in the building in advance
  2. Turn off the main power source
  3. Check if the emergency lights switch on automatically
  4. Check if the emergency lights stay on for at least three hours
  5. Log any emergency lights that are not working 
  6. Place your annual emergency lighting inspection report in the logbook 
  7. Ensure all uncovered issues (if any) are resolved 

Usually, if the emergency lights fail the annual test, the issue is in the battery, so the batter will have to be replaced. The fire safety expert conducting the test should give you a completed emergency lighting inspection form including follow-up action recommendations that you can add to your logbook. 



What are the legal requirements for emergency lighting?

According to the emergency lighting regulations in the UK, emergency routes and exits must be illuminated by emergency lighting that can adequately lead people to safety in the case of an emergency. The emergency lights must be tested, serviced and maintained regularly. 

How often does emergency lighting need to be tested?

A quick switch on/off test should be performed every month to ensure that the emergency lighting turns on automatically.

A full 3-hour long emergency lighting test must be performed every 6-12 months to ensure that the emergency lights have the capability to last as long as required.

What is an emergency lights test switch?

This is a test switch specially designed to cut the mains power to the emergency lights without disturbing the power supply to the rest of the building. When a special test key is not provided, the emergency lighting test needs to be performed by switching off the main fuse. 

What does it mean if the emergency lights flash?

If your emergency lights are blinking in green this indicates that the emergency lighting system has entered the testing mode. 

What does a red light mean on an emergency light?

Emergency lights must illuminate in green. A red light either indicates that there is an issue with the system, potentially a low battery or another failure, or it alerts you that the system needs to be serviced. If you notice a red light, please contact a fire safety engineer immediately

If you found our emergency light testing guide useful, you may also like to read our guides on how and when to do fire alarm servicing in the UK and BS5839.