Is it law for all emergency signs to be made in photoluminescent material?
During the 1990s, fire protection companies recognised that making signs out of a glow-in-the-dark material could be a real benefit to the occupants of a building. This is a practice that has continued through to today, with photoluminescent signs now accounting for a large proportion of the overall sales of emergency signs in the UK.
However, off the back of this seemingly good practice of installing photoluminescent signs, combined with some over-zealous sales reps, the myth has grown in the UK that all fire related signs must be made from a photoluminescent material.
Before we can tackle whether it is indeed the law to only install photoluminescent fire signs, it is right to identify how these glow-in-the-dark signs work.
Once installed, photoluminescent signs soak up natural and artificial light in a building. Then, should the lights fail in the event of a fire or some other kind of emergency, the message on the sign will glow strongly. Assuming the sign is made to meet the requirements of DIN 67510 and the UK’s Class A standard, it will glow for the necessary time it takes to evacuate a burning building (assuming it has soaked up enough light prior to this emergency). Standards of photoluminescence are regulated by the PSPA (Photoluminescent Safety Products Association) with Class A being the minimum, and Class B, C & D indicating increasing levels of brightness and longer decay times.
Now the question of whether it is the law:
Currently, there is no UK law that says fire and emergency signs should only be made from photoluminescent material. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 consolidated all existing fire legislation like the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and the Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997. However, the Order’s guidance notes do not state explicitly that only photoluminescent signs should be used. Equally the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 does not mention photoluminescent signs.
So if there is not a photoluminescence law, is there a British Standard?
In the UK the single most important pieces of safety sign guidance are BS5499 parts 1 and 4. Neither of these state photoluminescent signs are a strict requirement. That said, the far more obscure BS 16069 does advise that all emergency signs should be made from a photoluminescent material. However, at the time of writing it should be noted this British Standard has yet to really be fully accepted or recognised by either the fire industry or any enforcing bodies.
So if it is not law or even a strong British Standard, why do so many UK businesses specify the use of photoluminescent materials? Simplistically, there is a genuine benefit. If there is little or no emergency lighting in place then photoluminescent signs help often panicked individuals find their way out of a burning building or guide them to essential fire fighting equipment. As such, buyers should think about buying the following in photoluminescence:
- Fire exit signs
- Fire action notices
- Fire points signs
- Fire alarm call points signs
- internal fire exit keep clear signs
- Fire extinguisher signs
However, what buyers should never do is request signs that do not assist people should the lights fail in the event of an emergency. One of the main culprits of this is the No smoking sign that is often made in photoluminescent. After all, whilst the building is ablaze surely the last thing any evacuee should be thinking about is lighting up a cigarette themselves!
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