Too many building owners are cutting corners when it comes to emergency lighting

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Opinion

  Posted by: electime      18th February 2021

According to a 2020 Hilclare report, 44 per cent of firms in England don’t have the correct emergency lighting, while in 2018, a report revealed 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 facts and figures

Despite previous studies highlighting the dangerous gaps in emergency lighting, it remains an issue today. According to a 2020 Hilclare report, 44 per cent of firms in England don’t have the correct emergency lighting. In 2018, Inside Housing revealed 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.

Prison sentences are a real consequence of poor emergency lighting practice and fines are growing in their severity. Fire safety solicitor Warren Spencer reviewed 200 of his cases from 2006 to 2019 brought under the Fire Safety Order legislation and found that the average fine for breaches since the Grenfell fire tragedy is £27,519, more than a third (35 per cent) higher than the average across 2014-2019, which is £20,375. Other findings included:

  • A total of £1,230,879 has been handed out in fines, and the total costs ordered is £819,616.
  • Out of 200 cases, only nine defendants have pleaded not guilty to all charges brought.
  • Article 14 of the Fire Safety Order relating to emergency routes and exits is the most enforced.
  • The maximum sentence under the Fire Safety Order is two years imprisonment. The range of sentences handed out across Spencer’s cases varied, with fines being the main punishment. Out of 3 cases (6 defendants) involving fatalities, two of these cases resulted in suspended prison sentences.
  • Government figures from a Freedom of Information requested by Spencer showed that between 2006 and 2009, defendants were convicted of 1904 charges. Of those charges, 443 (23 per cent) related to article 14 emergency routes and exits. Multiple occupancy (HMOs) premises represent 17.5 per cent of the national cases prosecuted.

Anthony Martindale, field product manager, lighting, Eaton, says: “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.”

“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.”

Chris Watts, fire safety consultant, BAFE board member, chairman of British Standard committee responsible for BS 5266-1 (code of practice for emergency lighting), explains how can facilities managers 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.

“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.”