Technical Corner

Can we let users back into the building before the emergency lighting system has fully recharged?

June 27, 2022

Hopefully members are aware that the ORFA has been focused on raising awareness of the increasing risks associated with aging recreation infrastructure. Most of the country’s recreation facilities are reaching or past their prime. Thirty-five years of age does not seem like a reasonable benchmark for when a recreation structure is considered at its peak but in reality, given the number of buildings that have been “valued engineered and constructed” the 35-year window becomes a little clearer. As buildings reach this plateau, they do not immediately need replacing, it usually indicates that they will need much more investment to remain safe and serviceable – through quality management. Each year that these community anchor points age, the risk of failure increases. What impact this will have are adjusted based on maintenance and capital investment. Today’s facility manager must know their buildings and the weakest point of the operation. Once determined, their role is to raise awareness of the issues and advocate for support during the budget process. As always, a good asset management plan is key to meeting these objectives.

The aging infrastructure risk theme also requires facility management to “expect the unexpected” and plan accordingly. Of all the pandemic related issues, no one projected a worker shortage crisis in all most every industry – including recreation. ORFA staff predicted the potential mass exodus of our members as part of the pandemic. Members who were close to retirement or had reached it and were unsure if they were ready to retire made hard decisions to move into this next stage of life. The same reasons that had long serving staff decide to retire (shift-work) is also a barrier to attracting young people to our industry. It is also reasonable to add in that many of our facilities expected workload and staffing levels do not often match. Senior administrative staff often equate the level of provided compensation to a higher expected level of performance. In addition, policy, procedures, training, user demands, regulations and potential liability, which always existed, are now more predominate then ever before. This will be an issue for years to come. To add additional weight to the accountability and responsibility policy and procedure conversation, the question as to when we allow users back into our buildings after an extended electrical disruption was recently raised with a new question that required deeper thought. Can we let users back into the building before the emergency lighting system has fully recharged?

This is a good question – kudos to members for raising it. Emergency lighting is required under Section of the Ontario Fire Code which mandates that any building required to have a fire alarm system must also provide emergency lighting for exits and access to exits. Additionally, any room that can host more than 60 people must also provide emergency lighting. The question that might be asked of the inspection and testing company is how long the batteries will remain on, as well as estimated recharging time to determine how long it takes to get to (2) (a) below:

Emergency lighting

(1) Emergency lighting shall be provided in

(a) exits and access to exits in buildings required to have a fire alarm system, and

(b) rooms containing an assembly occupancy with an occupant load of more than 60 persons.

(2) Emergency lighting required in Sentence (1) shall be

(a) designed to provide illumination for a duration of at least

(i) 2 hours in buildings where the vertical distance between the floor of the top storey and grade exceeds 18 m, and

(ii) 30 min in buildings where the vertical distance between the floor of the top storey and grade is not more than 18 m,

(b) supplied by a source of energy separate from the primary electrical supply for the building, and

(c) designed to be automatically actuated when the power to the building is interrupted.

(3) Illumination from emergency lighting referred to in Sentence (2) shall be an average of at least 10 lx at floor or tread level, or 1 watt/m2 of floor space.

It is also important that facility staff be trained to respond during brown or blackouts by attending mechanical rooms and turning off all equipment until the electrical system stabilizes and then bring each piece back online in a slow activation process. Brown out and black outs reek havoc on 347v and 600v equipment that can reduce their life-cycle. The question then becomes when is it safe to allow people back in the pool or on the ice? Buildings that do not have back-up power systems require operational staff to design policy based on equipment operational capability. Catching up on water circulation and chemical disinfection will need to be calculated. As for the ice, the industry best practice is to allow the system to operate until it reaches the set ice temperature point where it will shut off. An ice depth check should then be conducted as a legal safety measure.

Having a Standard Operating Practice (SOP) for facility electrical system failure and training all staff to understand how to safely respond is essential and practical asset management.

Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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