Fire & Life Safety

Testing, Testing

Many life safety service companies will offer monthly and annual testing of battery-operated emergency lighting. It is important to remember that National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standards 111 and 110 do not apply to battery-operated devices. Your testing specifications must reference the International Fire Code Section 604.5 (2012) to properly identify testing requirements for battery-unit emergency lighting.

There are two components to the testing of battery-unit emergency lighting, an activation test and power test. It is important that your specifications or procedures for testing clearly define the process used for each test.

Monthly activation test

The activation test must be completed monthly and ensures the emergency lighting activates automatically upon primary power disconnect and stays on for a minimum of 30 seconds. The activation test verifies the battery is holding a charge and that all bulbs are operational and that the transfer switch operates properly. To accomplish the activation test, the testing company must turn off the normal power supply circuit serving each unit. Simply pushing the “test” button on the light will not meet the testing requirement. This is easy to accomplish when the battery unit is plugged into an outlet, simply unplugging the unit will accomplish disconnection of normal power. If the unit is wired into a branch circuit, the lock-on device required by NFPA 70 must be removed prior to the test and then reinstalled upon completion of the test.

Annual power test

The power test for battery unit emergency lighting is completed annually. The annual test verifies batteries are capable for providing sufficient illumination for a minimum of 90 minutes. This test will verify the condition of the battery, bulbs and circuitry. Similar to the monthly activation test, there is a need to turn off the normal power supply to the unit.

To determine adequate illumination levels your testing company will need to conduct testing during the evening. It is necessary to show that initial illumination levels are an average of 1 foot-candle and a minimum of 0.1 foot-candle at any point when measured along the path of egress at floor level. At the end of 90 minutes, the foot-candle measurement is permitted to decline to 0.6 foot-candle.

Testing records

Testing records for monthly activation tests and annual power tests must be maintained for a minimum of three years. The record needs to include the location of the emergency lighting tested, whether the unit passed or failed, the date and time of the test and the name of the person and company completing the test. There are two reasons for the test records. First, to prove to regulatory officials that testing was completed, and second, to help the building operator understand how the equipment is performing over time. Testing records should be stored on premises in a location where staff can easily access them to record monthly tests and for easy retrieval for inspection agencies. A centralized location can be used when there is a complex of buildings. Online access is also permitted by many jurisdictions provided inspectors have their own access to the data. There are companies that can offer cloud-based storage with instant uploading of test reports.

Supervision of testing

All contracts for testing of emergency lighting should list the required qualifications for the individual conducting the testing. The International Fire Code (IFC) is vague on specific requirements. The IFC states that a properly instructed individual shall oversee inspection and operational testing. To meet this general requirement, individuals should understand proper methods to read light meters and foot-candles. In addition, testing staff should understand the proper method to disconnect power supply and clearly demonstrate that they understand the push button test does not meet monthly or yearly testing requirements.

Testing battery-operated emergency lighting is not difficult, however it is often misunderstood. Review language in your testing procedures to verify you are performing tests correctly. If you contract this service out, ask your service company for written copies of the procedures they have technicians follow. Periodically have supervisors participate in the testing to verify correct testing procedures are being followed. As always, for more information, consult your local fire code official.

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.

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