When the lights go out: Emergency lighting in your veterinary practice


Lightning strikes. Darkness falls. Can team members see to walk your halls?

The time to think about your emergency lighting system is not during your next power outage. It's now. While talk of exit routes, battery ballasts, and blinking red lights might not light up your life, preparation today will save you the trouble of injuries—and even lawsuits—later.


You already know your veterinary hospital needs emergency lighting to illuminate exit routes and protect people in potentially hazardous situations when the power fails. But did you realize that you need to have proper emergency lighting even in areas with exterior windows? Your building must provide adequate and reliable illumination so that people can find the nearest exit and get there safely during a power loss.

In some industries, OSHA mandates emergency lighting at certain workstations so operators can safely shut down hydraulic or pneumatic equipment. Follow that logic in your own practice: The majority of workplace accidents in the veterinary profession involve animal handling of some kind. So you need to provide emergency lighting in practice locations where workers are likely to be working with animals. Your hospital's prime locations are the surgery, treatment, grooming, and kennel or barn areas.


Standard emergency lighting is available from home centers and electrical supply stores. Basic fixtures can cost as little as $40. If you're a little decor-conscious, consider a battery ballast for fluorescent lighting fixtures.

These ballasts are installed inside an existing (or new) fluorescent light fixture. The only hint they're there is the small red light telling you they're charged and ready. Electricians usually need to install battery ballasts because they require a continuous "hot" wire to differentiate between a power outage and just turning the lights off at the switch. The ballasts cost less than $100 and are available at most electrical supply stores (but not usually at home center stores).


A final note: Handheld and hand-cranked flashlights are not appropriate emergency lighting. You can't always find and power them up during an unexpected power outage. Emergency lights must come on automatically when the flow of power is interrupted.

Phil Seibert, CVT, is an author, speaker, and consultant with SafetyVet in Calhoun, Tenn. Join Seibert Aug. 28 and 30 at CVC Kansas City for expert advice on hot practice management topics and pharmacy education for your veterinary technicians. Visit thecvc.com for details.

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