SNV Story No. 11: Saving people when everything goes dark

You're walking around a large building that you’re not familiar with. Suddenly, the light goes out and everything’s pitch black. What now? The emergency lighting switches on. It allows you to orientate yourself and leads you safely out of the building and away from any possible danger. In Switzerland, the legislation regarding emergency lighting is complex because it is dealt with in three different places: in labour law, fire safety and laws governing electricity. As a result, the interests, provisions and objectives are varied. For more than a decade, the Schweizer Licht Gesellschaft (SLG) has been involved in this conflicted field, uncovering discrepancies and making them transparent for everyone involved. By creating a Swiss standard, they are now taking their work to the next level. We spoke with Markus Christen, the head of the “Emergency lighting” professional group.

What is the purpose of emergency lighting?
Essentially, what it does is lead people away from a dangerous area and protect lives – for example, if the light goes out in a building because of a lightning strike or a fire. There is also emergency lighting in things other than buildings, such as tunnels and aeroplanes. In its work, the Schweizer Licht Gesellschaft (SLG) focuses on medium and larger buildings.

What quality rating does emergency lighting in Switzerland receive?
The global legal situation is complex. Switzerland, however, is a trailblazer when it comes to coordination between the various different parties. For example, neither Germany and Austria have such clearly delineated responsibilities as we do here, and we are a valued partner in international standardization work. So that’s clearly a top mark.

Why does there need to be a standard for emergency lighting if there are already three laws for it?
The three different laws are exactly the reason why a standard is needed. The limits specified in the individual laws can vary greatly. For example, the SN EN 1838 emergency lighting standard specifies that for workplaces with a particular hazard, a lighting intensity of 15 lux must be installed. The regulations for the electrician performing the work do not reflect this requirement, and instead specify that lighting with 1 lux is sufficient. This lack of harmonization leads to uncertainties in the planning and implementation of projects. Under the aegis of the SLG, for more than ten years the “Emergency lighting” professional group has been dedicated to clearly highlighting and delineating the interfaces and responsibilities between the authorities. The result has been a 110-page “State of the art paper on emergency lighting” that focuses on the planning, creation, operation, maintenance and disposal of emergency lighting systems. The next logical step for us is to draft a Swiss standard that elevates the content and work to a higher level of impact.

Was the emergency lighting professional group already engaged in standardization work before this decision?
Our group is what is called a mirror group for all international standards in the area of emergency lighting. For us the mother of all standards is “SN EN 1838 Lighting applications - Emergency lighting”. Next year both standards, “SN EN 1838 Lighting applications - Emergency lighting” and “SN EN 50172 Emergency escape lighting systems”, will be published for the first time. We were heavily involved in their planning. So standardization work isn’t new territory for us, and in 2019 we decided to draft our own Swiss regulation – SNR 19900.

What does the content of the standard focus on?
The focus is primarily on the interoperability between the current legal situation and the responsibilities of participants such as electrics inspectors, building insurers, the Swiss Office for Economy and Labour, lighting manufacturers, system manufacturers and electrical consultants. They all have something to do with emergency lighting, and as a result naturally pay attention to the particular characteristics of their sector. It is, however, crucial to clearly define where emergency lighting must be employed and how the parties involved can work together most effectively in order to achieve the best possible result for people's safety. Thanks to the standard, individual elements of the “State of the art paper for emergency lighting” gain a more binding character.

Emergency lighting and escape routes

What weaknesses in the current system will the standard resolve?
Ultimately, the responsibility for properly functioning emergency lighting lies with the owner of a building. But many parties are involved in the planning, implementation and upkeep, and they sometimes work completely independently of each other in different projects. The depiction clearly illustrates the weak points. If, for example, we find ourselves in a walk-in refrigerator or a cloakroom, then industrial safety determines the regulations. If we're looking at escape routes, then fire safety makes its requirements known. Electricians then handle the installation of the emergency lighting, paying heed to electricity laws while doing so. The standard will be a platform for all participants that brings everything together and clearly defines who does what.

What was done to initiate the standardization process?
We started the process in 2019 when our professional group approached the SNV. Our contact immediately recognized the necessity and importance of a Swiss standard. The advantage we had is that we already had experience doing standardization work, and with the “State of the art paper on emergency lighting” we had a very solid basis. In numerous calls over many months, we disassembled all of the modules described in this paper into pieces and then re-sorted them. We used a matrix to record what content belonged in the SNR and what belonged in the SNG. What's more is that the changes and new features from the “SN EN 1838 Lighting applications - Emergency lighting” and the “SN EN 50172 Emergency escape lighting systems” standards had already been incorporated. The SNV then officially polished the content, resulting in the SNR 19900. We are using this faster path as a preliminary stage on the way to a fully developed standard. In contrast to this, with an SNR no consensus is necessary. We're now in the final phase, and on 1 January 2024, the SNR 19900 will be published. We've already double-checked with the professional associations for their approval, and if the regulation proves effective over the next five years, it will be transformed into the Swiss standard “SN 19900”.  

Acronyms up to your eyeballs? A simple explanation of standards variants
SN = Swiss standard
SN EN = Swiss edition of a European standard
SN EN ISO = Swiss edition of a European standard
that is identical to an international standard
SNR = Swiss regulation
SNG = Swiss guide

What is the professional group particularly proud of?
Compared to other SNRs, we clearly set out the processes and responsibilities. That goes beyond a purely technical standard and is unique. This part will provide much more clarity in practice.

Who are the biggest beneficiaries?
The professional planners and electricians as well as the units that are responsible internally at companies or organizations for fire safety. And if they all work together professionally, every person who spends time in a well-planned and properly maintained building benefits.

What impresses you the most about standardization work?
First, when you yourself get involved with standardization work, you get a look behind the simple rules. People who get involved in standardization work aren’t pedantic. What they care about is the impact that a standard can have on improving our lives and our work, and making them simpler. When it comes to emergency lighting, what it all comes down to isn't the technology, but the people. And that's what I find the most motivating.

Markus Christen

The chairperson of the “Emergency lighting” professional group holds the title of Head of After Sales Service at Zumtobel Licht AG. At the Schweizer Licht Gesellschaft (SLG) he works as the seconded officer of his employer. He originally trained as an electrician, and then later qualified as an electrical engineer and received a degree in economics. For many years he has worked in a wide variety of roles in the lighting business, with the last 14 years at Zumtobel.

Markus Christen is the chairperson of the “Emergency lighting” professional group. For many years he has worked in a wide variety of roles in the light business, with the last 14 years at Zumtobel.

Markus Christen is the chairperson of the “Emergency lighting” professional group. For many years he has worked in a wide variety of roles in the light business, with the last 14 years at Zumtobel.

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