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Considerations when Installing Emergency Lighting and Exit Signs

Egress Lighting Requirements

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has co-opted the standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) with regards to egress lighting. The end goal is to ensure that, in the event of an emergency and loss of power, any employee with normal vision and outside of a single occupancy office area be able to see along the entirety of an exit route. In the simplest terms, the law states that you must install emergency lights in all areas where two or more people are present, aw well as along all egress routs up to public sidewalks or safe assembly areas.

Ensuring Emergency Lighting Performance

To ensure the effectiveness and reliability of egress lighting, the NFPA’s Life Safety Code has set forth four criteria; performance, operation, power source and testing.  These are looked at in the below sections. It is also important to familiarize yourself with any local fire or building codes that may be applicable to your project. Consult your local municipality for information on local fire and building codes and how they apply to emergency lighting and your project.

Performance and Illumination Requirement

In the event of power loss, NFPA’s Life Safety Code requires that emergency egress lights provide 90 minutes of illumination. This time is deemed adequate to fully evacuate a large building. Adequate illumination is assured when lights burn at a minimum of 10.8 lux. For testing purposes, a light meter can be placed at floor level and a reading taken.

Proper Operation

NFPA’s Life Safety Code requires emergency lighting to operate automatically without receiving a manual reset. If emergency lights are battery operated, they must turn on immediately following the loss of power. If a generator is used for backup power, a buildings emergency power supply system (EPSS) must utilize an automatic transfer switch (aka, “make before break” switch).

Power Source Requirements

Egress lighting may be either powered by batteries or generator, per the NFPA’s Life Safety Code. Batteries for egress lighting must be rechargeable, must recharge to full power in <24 hours, and must meet the requirements set for by the National Electric Code (All ExitExpo emergency lighting batteries meet the NEC requirements). Backup generators used to power egress lighting must meet NFPA Standard 110 requirements.

Testing Requirements for Egress Lighting

NFPA’s Life Safety Code specifies that all egress lighting be tested in two ways. The first is a monthly, 30-second test. Most emergency lighting units, including all those sold at, have a manual button for this function, or include a Self Diagnostic Testing module that performs this test automatically every 30 days. The second test is an annual, 90 minute test of backup powered egress lighting. This is a manual test and must be preformed yearly. Power must be cut and all emergency lighting must power on and remain powered for 90 minutes.  

Exit Sign Requirements

OSHA requires exit signs in all commercial, religious, educational, industrial, public housing, medical and any other facilities where the public is allowed or where workers have access to. Private residences are not covered by this requirement and single person offices do not require an exit sign.

What constitutes an Exit and What Type of Signage is Required

OSHA regulations 1910.37(b) cover exit routes and exits and state that an exit route must be lit so a person with normal vision can see along the exit route. Each exit must “be clearly visible and free of any obstructions.” Each exit must be marked by a sign reading “Exit”.

- Exit signs must have the word “Exit” in plainly legible letters not less than 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) high, with the principal strokes of the letters in the word “Exit” no less than ¾ of an inch (1.9 cm) wide.

- Each exit sign must be illuminated to a surface value of at least five foot-candles (54 lux) by a reliable light source and be distinctive in color. Self-luminous or electroluminescent signs that have a minimum luminance surface value of at least .06-foot-lamberts are permitted.

- Each exit route door must be free of decorations or signs that obscure the visibility the exit route door.

- Each doorway or passage along the exit route that could be mistaken for an exit must be marked “Not an Exit” or similar designation, or be identified by a sign indicating it’s actual use (ex. “Closet”).

- If the direction of travel to the exit or exit discharge is not immediately apparent, signs must be posted along the exit access indicating the direction of travel to the nearest exit and exit discharge. Additionally, the line-of-sight to an exit sign must be clearly visible at all times. This can be a sign designating the actual exit discharge (ex. Door to outside safe area) or it can be an exit sign indicating “This way to the exit”.

All ExitExpo exit signs, both powered signs and self-illuminous exit signs, meet OSHA and NFPA requirements.

Local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) Requirements

It is important that you check with your local AHJ regarding requirements for your municipality. Certain cities, such as New York City and Chicago, both have specific exit sign specs regarding sign size, color, lettering color and size, etc. that is more stringent than both the OSHA and NFPA requirements.

If you have any questions regarding exit signs, please call us today at 844-394-8247.