Lighting in the Workplace – How to Use Light to Increase Safety and Productivity at Work

Most managers, especially safety managers, are looking for the most obvious and dangerous elements of a business to improve upon when designing their safety and efficiency programs. This means that factors like slip, trip, falling, lifting, and pinch point hazards are usually addressed first. These can be referred to as “primary” factors. However, in addition to the primary factors there are secondary factors that make accidents involving primary factors more likely to occur. For example, dampness might contribute to the risk of slipping on a floor, and lighting might play a role in hindering foot placement and cause trips and falls to be more likely. While these are deemed secondary factors, they are usually the root causes of many problems, making them even more important than the primary categories. In this blog post, we’re going to break down one of these secondary factors, lighting, in exquisite detail. We’ll be looking at why proper lighting is important, how to achieve appropriate light levels for your task(s), and the benefits you stand to gain from making changes.

Why Proper Lighting Matters

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety,

People receive about 85 percent of their information through their sense of sight. Appropriate lighting, without glare or shadows, can reduce eye fatigue and headaches; it can prevent workplace accidents by increasing the visibility of moving machinery and other safety hazards.

-CCOHS – Lighting Ergonomics – General

To put it mildly and state the obvious, eyesight is extremely important. But beyond the obvious benefits of being able to see clearly, here are some work-related reasons for you to bump up lighting on your priority list:

  • Eye strain: Low lighting can cause rapid fatigue and tiredness, meaning that workers will get sleepy on the job easier. Tiredness at work, especially in physical labor environments, can quickly lead to increased rates of incidence in accidents and safety violations.
  • Lower rates of vision-related incidents: Poor lighting, as mentioned earlier, can lead workers to take unsure footing paths or to not see hazards in their way. In addition, lower visibility might hurt workers’ accuracy with tools, leading to cuts and abrasions that could have been avoided.
  • Efficiency: Concentration and focus are vastly improved by visual acuity, and there is no exception when creating products and parts. Especially when complex, multi-stage assembly is involved, workers need to be able to see what they’re doing at all times and without intrusive shadows or blind spots. Ultimately, these translate to faster overall production and with less mistakes made, making for a more efficient operation.
  • Less health complaints: In addition to tiredness, low light and eye strain can lead to headaches, nausea, and eye damage. Because these injuries and illnesses could potentially occur on the job, you will be able to minimize claims and improve employee health simultaneously by improving lighting.

Techniques for Improved Lighting in the Workplace

It is worth noting that improving lighting doesn’t always mean placing more fixtures and light bulbs around. While that’s sometimes an option, there are often cheaper, simpler adjustments that can be made first.

  • Workstation Layout and Orientation: Light sources all cast shadows based on where they are placed, and what is in between them and the point of focus. Sometimes a worker’s own body, if the light source is located behind him or her, can block light from falling properly on what he or she is working on. In other cases, it might be that a desk or workstation could be laid out differently to make the most use of your current lighting situation. Also, consider your hours of operation and the natural light available to you. In many cases, warehouses and other production facilities may have limited or very few windows in order to reduce the risk of breakage from forklifts or other machinery operating high in the air. However, natural light is free, and letting some in via skylights or normal windows can help you cut energy costs while simultaneously improving the lighting situation in your workplace. When undertaking such a project, consider moving parts of your workstation layout around to best make use of any newly admitted daylight.
  • Observe Background and Other color Pallets: One of the largest factors in making accurate visual distinctions, regardless of light level, is contrast. When a material is lost against its background, it will require more strain and effort to work on. Be sure and ask employees if any workstations have color schemes that make working more difficult. Certain materials are inherently easier to work with against certain backgrounds; steel and iron against cream colored backing, bronze and copper against gray-blue, light-colored wood against dark, etc.
  • Floor Tape and Signs: Many times you have objects that can be tough to see no matter how hard you try to fix the lighting. Marking off these objects with bright colored floor tape can help draw attention to these objects and help increase the safety of your employees. In addition, floor signs can be used well before the objects to notify employees of potential safety hazards. Floor tape and floor signs are great tools to use when lighting cannot be fixed within the facility.
  • Installing New Lighting: In some situations, there’s just no way around the need to buckle down and buy/install some new lights. When doing this, however, don’t just go around placing bulbs and fixtures everywhere you can, keep in mind these factors when installing any new light:
  • Glare: Think about the types of materials your bulb will be casting light on. Glare on computer or other digital screens, or off of windows and shiny materials, can cause more harm than good when it comes to clarity of vision.
  • Partition your lighting: While one set of lights might be just right for one employee, it could be casting unwanted glare, shadows, or patterns over the station of another worker. In the case of a station shared by multiple workers, each employee may have their own preferred settings for working. To remedy this, make the controls for your lights as local as possible, or partition off work spaces so that light sources don’t interfere with one another. If switches and/or dimmers for lighting are located within reach of a station, instead of at a central panel, that’s all the better.

Other considerations:

object-lightingBe aware that the color of an object is a result of the light it is seen in – for an example of this visit a photography dark room, where low emitting lights allow you to see your surroundings, but even the brightest colored objects appear gray until taken into normal light. For this reason, tasks in which sorting and matching pieces are essential should receive extra attention to make sure lighting is just right.

It is almost important to consider the temperature in any heavily lit room. A hot, muggy room that causes discomfort can be as detrimental to productivity as an improperly lit one. When you install any new lighting fixtures, make sure employees let you know if any other factors need to be adjusted as a result.

Maintain lighting. Obviously, light bulbs need to be changed with time, and the more of these you have, the more often you’ll have to do it. Additionally, you need to maintain your fixtures, removing dust and debris as your workplace dictates. The use of proper shades can help prevent dust from building up so quickly, so don’t hesitate to use them even if they look a bit out of place. If new fixtures are getting bumped into by carried objects or broken, be sure to make quick adjustments in the easiest way possible – sometimes this means moving the new fixture yet again, sometimes it means adjusting other work practices or materials transports costs.

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