When individuals hear the term ergonomics, the first thing that often comes to their minds are desks and chairs (Learn more in 10 Important Ergonomic Aids for Office Workers). Ergonomic lighting is often overlooked and it is not uncommon to see an employee working in harsh fluorescent lighting, or in a room that is dimly lit. In fact, various studies suggest that an ergonomically lit workplace improves productivity; while at the same time reduces errors. For instance, according to the International Labour Organisation, proper lighting ergonomics can increase productivity by up to ten percent, as well as reduce errors by approximately thirty percent. Additionally, improvements in lighting do not necessarily mean installing more light. Instead it entails finding the optimum way to position light source, as well as use natural light.

What is lighting ergonomics?

Lighting ergonomics focuses on the relationship between the light source and the employee. Therefore, it is aimed at designing and arranging light sources so that employees can work and interact in the safest and most efficient manner.

How is light measured?

The level of light is measured in LUX—the unit of illuminance and luminous emittance—using a light meter.

Why is lighting in the workplace important?

A poorly lit work environment increases employees’ risk of eye-strain, fatigue, headaches, stress, and accidents. However, too much light can also negatively impact on the health and safety of employees, causing glare headaches and stress. Both of these scenarios can lead to low productivity, high error rates, poor work quality, as well as a marked reduction in mental alertness.

What are the different sources of light?

There are two main sources of light. These are natural light, or daylight, and electrical lighting.

  1. Daylight: Natural lighting is most desirable in work environments. The amount of natural light entering a workplace depends on the architecture of the building (position of windows), local terrain, direction of the sunlight, facility location, and time of year. The amount of daylight entering the workplace can be easily controlled using tinted windows or blinds.
  2. Electrical lighting: In workplace where daylight is limited, it is essential to have an electric lighting system. Electric lighting is provided by bulbs and the amount of light and the color of the light itself vary with the type of bulb being used. For example, fluorescent bulbs produce light that is on a much different color spectrum than incandescent bulbs.

How much light is need in the work environment?

The amount of light needed in a work environment is unique to the workplace and is dependent on:

  • The type of task being performed (is there a demand for speed or accuracy?)
  • The type of surfaces present in the workstation (does it reflect or absorb light)
  • The general work area
  • The individual worker’s vision

The top 5 most common lighting problems in the workplace

  • Insufficient light
  • Glare (too much light)
  • Improper contrast
  • Poorly distributed light
  • Flicker

How to test for insufficient lighting problems in the workplace?

Before assessing whether or not there is insufficient lighting in the workplace, have employees sit in their normal working positions and perform their regular work tasks, as this will give more accurate results. To detect insufficient light in the workplace, it is recommended that:

  • The average illumination throughout the workplace is measured and it is compared to the recommended levels
  • Work areas and stairways be examined for shadows
  • Ask employees if they suffer from eye strain

Ergonomic lighting solutions

Here are some measures to improve lighting ergonomics in the workplace.

1. Make full use of daylight or natural lighting (this is most effective in improving illumination):

  • Replace roof panels with translucent ones, for example, skylights
  • Consider the architecture of the building—add more windows if necessary
  • If possible, place equipment or machinery near windows
  • If a job task requires an ample amount of light, consider having the employee complete it near a window
  • Make sure that all skylights and windows are kept clean as this will allow more natural lighting into the workplace
  • Blinds can be use to reduce the amount of natural light of diffuse the natural light to avoid glare

2. Use specifically targeted electrical lighting (requires less power):

  • Position and direct the light fixture in the way that is best suited for the job task; this also prevents the employee from adopting poor working postures
  • Illuminate the work area where light is needed
  • Determine the most effective position and direction for the light so as to prevent shadows or glare
  • If necessary, add or remove local lighting to obtain the optimum level of lighting
  • Ensure that all lights are clean and in good condition
  • For close-up work, have the local lighting shine directly on the task and not into the employee’s eyes

3. Paint ceilings and walls in a light color (creates more reflection than dark colors):

  • Use white or a very light color to paint the ceilings in the work area
  • Paint the walls of the workplace white
  • Use light or half-tome colors on tables and machines

4. Eliminate shadows and glare:

  • Change the position of light sources
  • Change the position of the workstation
  • Use matte paint or darker colors for all surfaces
  • Provide curtains or blinds to cover windows
  • Install screens or partitions for shielding strong light
  • Combine natural light from windows with local lights to reduce shadows and achieve optimum lighting conditions

Can you see clearly now?

Poor lighting can not only be a safety hazard, it can also affect the quality of work, especially in job tasks where precision is required. Additionally, poor light can affect the motivation and efficiency of employees. Furthermore, overlooking lighting ergonomics can represent a significant cost to an organization in the form of time off from work because of incidents or accidents, and increased absenteeism. Thus, employers have a duty to ensure that lighting is safe and does not pose a health risk to employees. Remember, good lighting in the workplace promotes a brighter, cleaner workplace resulting in a more active, cheerful environment—and employees.