NFPA Emergency Exit Light Testing Guidelines

If your building has emergency exit lights (a.k.a. backup lighting), testing them regularly could keep them from malfunctioning during fires, blackouts, or other emergencies. Guidelines for exit light testing vary by city and state. However, the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) guidelines for testing exit lights are the most practiced test standards. Below, we look at emergency exit light testing guidelines according to the 2009 edition of the NFPA’s Life Safety Code.

Section 7.9.3.1.3 (2)

This section requires emergency lighting be tested once every 30 days for not less than 30 seconds. Pushing a small “push to test” button located on an exit light’s side can perform this test. In addition to being tested for correct operation, the lighting should undergo a diagnostic routine.

Section 7.9.3.1.3 (3)

This section requires emergency lighting to be tested once annually for not less than 1-1/2 hours. For this test, holding down “push to test” buttons is inefficient. Instead, building managers can simulate a power outage for 90 minutes, making it easier to observe all emergency lamps.

Section 7.9.3.1.3 (4)

This section requires each exit light to be fully operational during the tests performed according to sections 7.9.3.1.3 (2) and 7.9.3.1.3 (3). If testing reveals operational problems, the problems must be addressed immediately.

Section 7.9.3.1.3 (5)

This section states that a computer-based system should be capable of providing reports concerning test history and operational failures. In most buildings, this information can be provided by an electronic control system that monitors multiple data channels in a building’s emergency power supply system.

The drawbacks of back up lighting

Backup lighting is the oldest emergency egress technology found in modern buildings. Intended to illuminate hallways and vertical exit enclosures during low visibility, it can fail for several reasons, including: falling debris, generator failure, explosions, and thick smoke. To account for these risks, building owners outline their buildings’ egress paths with luminescent egress markings.

The power of photoluminescence

Luminescent egress markings operate by the principle of photoluminescence, absorbing photons from ambient light and re-emitting them, creating a bright glow that remains visible through smoke. Unlike backup lighting, luminescent egress markings contain no breakable parts, making them impervious to explosions and falling debris.

According to the International Building Code (IBC) and International Fire Code (IFC) luminescent egress markings should be applied to the following elements in vertical exit enclosures: handrails and handrail extensions, the leading edges of steps and landings, the perimeter area of floor landings, egress path obstacles, and the doorframes and door hardware of exit-leading doors. When applied according to IBC and IFC guidelines, luminescent egress markings make the dimensions and equipment of vertical exit enclosures perfectly visible in the dark.

At Jessup Manufacturing, we encourage building owners to perform exit light testing according to NFPA guidelines, and any additional guidelines that exist in their locale. We also encourage them to backup their backup lighting with luminescent markings. If they don’t, they could experience what every building owner fears: an evacuation that produces injuries and casualties due to inadequate egress safety.

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