Importance of Evacuation Lighting on Building Sites

An important part of every site’s safety plan should include emergency evacuation procedures and emergency exits.

Principal contractors should ensure that emergency routes are clearly marked and kept clear and unobstructed at all times in case an emergency occurs.

Another important consideration for contractors to ensure is that these emergency routes are adequately lit and illuminated so that workers can find their way out in an emergency and allow emergency personnel to gain access to the site.

Evacuation routes often are not clear and although ideally they should be kept unobstructed, this cannot always be ensured especially because emergencies often abruptly disrupt work, forcing workers to abandon equipment, tools, materials etc. suddenly, often obstructing the path. This is why lighting is so important to ensure that workers can find the route out and so that they do not trip over objects.

Some sites may have adequate natural lighting, but battery powered emergency lighting and exit signs are still needed incase the source of the light is obstructed and the light blocked out. Employers and principal contractors must determine what the law says about the minimum light levels required and install lighting accordingly.

Emergency lighting should also be installed at or next to site switchboards to help restore normal lighting after a fault occurs.

When planning the site safety plan, the evacuation procedure must also be developed and made available to workers so that they can familiarise themselves with it. In an emergency there will not be time for them to access this plan so they need to this beforehand.

The principal contractor should make electrical contractors aware of the project’s evacuation lighting requirements beforehand.  This should include lighting needed at different stages of the construction process as the site changes, the emergency lighting needs may also change and the electrical contractor must facilitate these changes.

As part of the site’s emergency response plan the principal contractor should designate evacuation routes for the various work areas. The routes should be regularly reviewed over the stages of the construction project to ensure they remain effective as the site layout and hazards change.

In building sites that are more than one storey, stairways will be used by workers during emergencies to evacuate the site as quick as possible. For this reason each active stairway should be treated as an evacuation route and emergency lighting provided.

Evacuation Lighting is needed when:

  • Work is being conducted in night hours when there is no day light.
  • Where natural lighting does not maintain the minimum lighting level required by law, most commonly is stairways, basements, internal passages.
  • If any work area, including under temporary support structures (eg formwork decks), is not sufficiently lit by the evacuation route lighting additional emergency lighting should be installed to light the work area to allow safe exit.

Exits signs are also an important consideration of site planning and these signs must be sufficiently illuminated and clearly visible. They should be at an appropriate height and appropriately lit so that workers can see them in the dark. Exit signs, including exit directional arrow signs, should be the internally illuminated battery back-up type so that if a fire occurs, they are still visible through the smoke. Although no one ever expects an emergency, they must be planned for to minimise the risk of worker injury and fatalities.