transforming risk into opportunity
February 5, 2022
Illumination, not Illusion
Erica Baird, ASP, CPCU, ARM Senior Risk & Safety Consultant

Most of us have pretty basic expectations for lighting at work. We just want the lights to turn on so that it isn’t dark. But what if we’ve set our expectations too low? Studies consistently suggest that lighting impacts both stress and wellbeing. Lights that can improve our lives… sounds like magic.

Research shows that improper lighting can lead to headaches, reduced productivity, fatigue, and workplace accidents. Whereas indirect sunlight can have the opposite effect, reducing eyestrain and headaches, improving alertness, and increasing productivity. Employees who work in offices with natural light also report better sleep than those who work in offices with artificial light.

Not every workplace benefits from natural light, but with proper design, artificial light can also help reduce eyestrain and headaches. OSHA developed standards for minimum lighting requirements in different work environments to protect workers. Depending on the work done and issues with shadows and glare, additional lighting may be necessary to protect workers’ eyes.  

Generally, a combination of direct and indirect lighting is used to reduce glare and create a more consistent level of light in the workplace. Overhead lights that project most light downward are an example of direct lighting, while indirect lights distribute nearly all light upwards to soften it and prevent glare.

Many companies are incorporating sunlight into office spaces to take advantage of the savings in energy and the benefits to employees. However, direct sunlight can also create glare, and care needs to be taken to determine the proper way to incorporate sunlight without creating new issues.

What does all of this mean to the average worker? Here are a few pointers.

  • If you can take advantage of the sun, try to place your desk at an angle to get the benefits of indirect sunlight without glare and reflections. Adjustable blinds can also help to allow sunlight in without creating glare.
  • Consider multiple light sources when arranging your workstation. Don’t place your monitor directly below an overhead light. Instead, soften light by using a few different low intensity light sources or using shades or diffusers. 
  • Use these light sources to create a consistent level of light throughout your work area since using a desk lamp near a computer while the rest of the space is dark can be hard on the eyes.
  • People who do a lot of detail work or writing generally require adjustable lighting that can be directed directly at their task or angled and moved as needed. 
  • Lighting also affects how color is viewed, making the type and color of the bulb an important factor in some work environments. When color is viewed in the sun, a full spectrum of light allows us to see the actual color, but artificial light does not engage the full spectrum, altering what we see. Therefore, it may be important to select bulbs that give off certain colors of light in some work environments. There are even bulbs that better mimic sunlight and can have similar effects on mood and behavior as access to the sun.

 

Et voilà. Illumination might just be magical after all. A few simple adjustments can help to protect your eyes and make you more productive, help you sleep better, and reduce stress.  

 

 
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