Imagine being caught in an intense earthquake lasting at least six minutes and suddenly having the power go off, plunging the room into darkness in the midst of all that chaos.
“You would have expected that some emergency lighting would come on, but there wasn’t a one,” Carl Pillitteri said in an interview with the National Science Foundation’s Burn Radio.
Pillitteri, an American maintenance supervisor, was among a group of about 40 American nuclear technicians who were working at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on March 11, 2011 when a magnitude 9 earthquake shook Japan’s northeast coast.
Pillitteri said the only thing that allowed his crew to get to safety was the fact that a sliver of light was coming from a gap under a door. The American technicians were able to get outside and climb to higher ground before a huge tsunami wave crashed into shore.
In an emergency, could your workers and any customers, clients or visitors find their way to safety outside? If your emergency and exit lighting isn’t working at 100 percent, the answer might be no. American and Canadian fire codes require that emergency lighting be inspected and tested monthly to ensure that it will operate properly in the event of a power failure. The emergency lights should be tested for at least 30 seconds. If the test button is held for only a few seconds, the lights may appear to be working, but they can quickly dim if the batteries aren’t holding a proper charge.
An annual test, to be conducted by a qualified person such as an electrician, also needs to be undertaken.
Exit lights, which are always required to be illuminated when buildings are occupied, also need to be tested to make certain they are working properly.
Emergency lighting checks need to be documented in writing to prove that these tests have been carried out and that any problems have been fixed.
It’s also important to ensure that product or equipment is not blocking people’s view of emergency and exit lighting, because they might not be able to see the lights during a power outage.
A power outage should be simulated every year and workers should be required to find their way outside, via emergency lighting, to meet in a designated safe area.