You turn on the lights at the beginning of the day and you turn them off when you leave. For most people, that’s probably all the thought they give to workplace lighting.
Lighting may seem like a simple part of the work environment, but if it isn’t done right, it can lead to complaints such as eyestrain, eye irritation, eye dryness, blurred vision and headaches. Additionally, poor lighting can create safety issues and reduce productivity because employees may grow uncomfortable or find themselves unable to keep up with the pace of their work because they can’t see very well.
Good lighting, on the other hand, can make employees more comfortable and increase productivity. A space that is well lit and doesn’t have too many shadows or too much glare allows workers to focus on the tasks at hand without needing to squint, use awkward postures or go in search of additional light sources.
Architects and builders usually determine proper lighting during the construction phase of a building, but employers must remember that lighting should always be tailored to the tasks that will be performed in their workplaces. That means changes might need to be made to lighting periodically so workers can easily do their jobs.
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In some cases, if lighting in a facility is inappropriate for the work being done, a detailed assessment of the lighting may need to be conducted. In general, though, if your facility already has decent lighting, you can simply find ways to improve upon what you already have. It’s just a matter of giving a little more thought to lighting by putting yourself in the place of workers and looking to see what changes could be made.
Types of Lighting Needed in the Workplace
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Safety and Health (CCOHS) explains that there are three main types of lighting needed in the workplace: general, localized-general and local/task.
General lighting such as ceiling fixtures lights up large areas, while localized-general lighting is slightly closer to workstations. These overhead fixtures help illuminate the places where tasks will be performed.
Local or task lighting gets even closer to workers. Desk lamps and floor lamps, for example, can be adjusted by employees to help them see the materials they are working with.
When used together, these types of lighting can reduce eyestrain for workers. Each workplace and work task may require different types of lighting, though, so select the types that your employees need (you may not need all three types).
When installing different types of lighting, you will have more than one option for how to do so. A light fixture, which controls light, should be chosen that provides the needed amount of light.
For example, direct light fixtures project light downward, and this would be useful for workers performing tasks that involve small parts that could be difficult to see in dim light. Other light fixtures include direct-indirect fixtures (which distribute light both up and down), indirect fixtures (which direct light almost entirely upward so the light reflects off walls and ceilings and into the work environment) and shielded fixtures (which cover bulbs to prevent glare).
You’ll want to think about how much and what kind of light your workers will need when selecting fixtures.
Questions to Consider When Selecting Lighting
Because lighting is not one-size-fits-all, consider the following lighting issues that could be present in your workplace:
- Is there enough lighting for employees to see what they’re doing easily?
- Is there too much lighting? (This results in glare issues.)
- Is there poor contrast? (If employees struggle to distinguish objects from the background or if areas have very different light levels, then contrast might be a problem.)
- Is the light poorly distributed? (Some areas might be dark and others bright.)
- Are shadows common? (Direct lighting often results in shadows.)
- Are accident-prone areas such as stairs well lit?
- Is reducing energy use something your business is interested in? (If so, you may want to select bulbs such as CFLs or LEDs.)
Once you’ve determined which of these issues are present in your facility, you can find ways to improve your lighting.
Methods for Improving Lighting
In general, you should try to provide enough light, reduce glare, improve contrast and eliminate excessive shadows. To achieve this, try some of the following methods suggested by CCOHS:
- Replace bulbs on a schedule. Over time, bulbs begin to emit less light.
- Clean fixtures. Dust can accumulate and reduce the amount of light being distributed throughout the work area.
- Add more lighting in dim areas. For example, if a worker is struggling to read documents, provide a task lamp. Task lamps can also help eliminate shadows.
- If lighting is inadequate, paint walls and ceilings light colors to reflect light.
- Avoid positioning lights directly behind workers, as this can create shadows.
- To reduce glare, cover bulbs, use fixtures that are lower intensity and provide lamps with brightness controls. You can also paint walls with matte paint and remove shiny objects from the work area.
- Improve lighting distribution by using fixtures that direct light upwards.
- Get input from workers. Find out how the lighting is working for them and if eyestrain is a problem.
According to CCOHS, “People receive about 85 percent of their information through their sense of sight.” That means facilitating good eyesight is worth spending time and money on. Workers are more likely to be involved in accidents if they can’t see well and their job performance could suffer.
If you’re interested in diving deeper into lighting issues in your workplace, you could perform a lighting survey using light-measuring instruments. If you need help determining what types of lighting problems you might have, CCOHS provides a helpful assessment checklist.
Lighting for All Situations
One last lighting scenario to consider: What happens when the power goes out? Glow-in-the-dark visual markings such as floor tape and instructional signs can help direct workers when light isn’t available. You should also consider having backup energy sources and other types of emergency lighting throughout your facility.
Additionally, make sure all of your safety signs and labels are adequately lit to prevent accidents. In areas where illumination is difficult, you could even try using a virtual floor sign system to display safety warnings when traditional signs won’t get the job done.
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