Poor lighting, flickering lights, too bright, too dim, these all impact our well-being and the company bottom line.
But it’s a surprisingly easy thing to fix.
What is poor lighting?
When we think of poor lighting, we think of dimly lit rooms, even semi-darkness, but a space that’s too bright also qualifies as being poorly lit.
Throw unevenly distributed and or flickering lights into the mix, combine that with the flickering of digital display screens, and together they create a ‘doppler effect’, a well-known hazard in the workplace.
In 2012, Health and Safety International produced an in-depth article related to eye health in the workplace.
The report highlighted a list of factors, and the ability to see well at work depends not only on lighting but also on:
- The time to focus on an object; fast-moving objects are hard to see
- The size of an object; very small objects are hard to see
- Brightness: too high or too low. Reflected light makes objects hard to see
- Contrast between an object and its immediate background; too little contrast makes it hard to distinguish an object from the background
- Insufficient light – not enough light for the need
- Glare – too much light for the need
- Suboptimal contrast
- Unequal and poorly distributed light
- Flicker Poor lighting can cause several problems, such as misjudging the position, shape or speed of an object can lead to accidents and injury
- Poor lighting can affect the quality of work, particularly in a situation where precision is required, and overall productivity
- Poor lighting can be a health hazard – too much or too little light strains eyes and may cause eye irritation and headaches
“Optimizing the amount of natural light in an office significantly improves health and wellness among workers, leading to gains in productivity.”
Most papers refer to commercial productivity when looking into office lighting, which is understandable as we work to be productive.
But as we are a company concerned with eye health, we want to look a little closer at the effects lighting has on the eyes.
The studies that looked at ocular health found that poor lighting affects the degree of fatigue on the eyes and overall health.
Workers in office environments with optimized natural light reported an 84 per cent drop in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision symptoms, which often result from prolonged computer and device use at work and can detract from productivity.
The impact of lighting has been documented for hundreds of years in educational establishments, but aren’t offices similar to classrooms? Shouldn’t the lighting be treated in the same way?
There you are in class, sitting in rows, at a desk. There you are in an office, sitting in cubicles, at a desk. Each situation involves concentration and reading/writing; both probably have sub-optimal lighting.
But let’s first indulge in some lighting talk.
Fluorescent lighting and compact fluorescent light bulbs (an energy-saving version of the former) are familiar to many of us from school and work.
Both are known to cause vision stress, eye strain, dry eyes, double vision, headaches, poor concentration, and increased error rates.
This is due to their production of an artificial source of ultraviolet (not Blue) light known to cause cataracts and macular degeneration, which is why there is now a push towards LED lighting in addition to their energy-saving qualities.
Fluorescent lights may be an old and well-known technology, yet they contain mercury, age significantly when turned on and off (probably why offices leave them running all night – environmental impact anyone?), and are omnidirectional, so the light goes everywhere. Not always the best solution for your eyes.
On the other hand, LEDs have a long life span, are energy efficient, provide high light quality, can easily be directed, and have low maintenance. Plus, you can turn them off without worry if this will kill the bulbs.
The ‘temperature’ of the light is another factor. Warmer light with more of a yellow/orange hue is better for the evening, allowing us to relax and wind down. Office lights are generally ‘cooler’ to help keep us more focused.
Indeed, anglepoise lamp manufacturers are now jumping on the working from the home bandwagon, suggesting ‘warmer’ lighting alongside the daylight from a window, and why not? Lighting in the home office is just as important as the work office.
The window company Velux is now heavily involved in research. As they state on their website, they “are committed to taking a leading role within the building industry to create better environments for working, living and learning”.
Whether an office’s light source is natural, artificial, bright and blue, or dim and yellow, the type of light that employees are exposed to not only impacts mood, circadian rhythms, and physical health but also affects productivity and creativity
The political football
When looking at the lighting in schools, the focus tends to be on mood and concentration, academic performance, and alertness.
Eye strain is barely mentioned, with one website stating that reading in dim light merely tires the eyes but doesn’t cause lasting damage. However, Dr Richard Hobday, PhD, Engineer, and author of The Light Solution, is convinced that poor lighting in schools is triggering myopia, short-sightedness.
A hundred years ago, school designers knew poor lighting caused myopia. Still, in the 1960s, myopia was dismissed as a genetic or inherited condition and had nothing to do with illumination or close-up work.
Currently, myopia is attributed to too much indoor near or close up work, the school environment and lack of outdoor time. Also, in the digital age, exacerbated by too many hours scrolling on the smartphone.
Hobday writes, “At the beginning of the last century, high levels of daylight in classrooms were one of several measures thought to prevent myopia, and some eye specialists campaigned for what they referred to as ‘ocular hygiene’ in schools. They stated that children had to learn how to see properly, without straining their eyes, if they were to preserve their eyesight.”
Indeed, a recent pilot study from China found that schoolchildren and teachers prefer brightly lit classrooms that reflect more natural daylight. Why mention China? Asia is currently experiencing a myopia rate of 80% in their children.
Humans have known for hundreds of years that levels of lighting are essential. We know poor lighting is not only responsible for deteriorating eyesight (yes, Granny was right!), but it’s also responsible for fatigue, low productivity, and a decline in wellness.
We receive 85% of our information through our sense of sight.
Therefore, we need optimal lighting in the office and at home. In addition, we need to mitigate the effects of poor lighting and staring at a screen all day.
Optimal lighting is 300-500 lumens.
Lumens (denoted by lm) measure the total amount of visible light (to the human eye) from a lamp or light source. The higher the lumen rating, the “brighter” the lamp will appear.
Whether working from home or in the office, we need lighting adjusted and moved to suit our needs.
Adjusting office lighting and installing systems and features to protect our eyesight will achieve two things.
- Reduce the levels of visual stress and binocular eye strain.
- Reduce levels of fatigue and improve levels of productivity.
To conclude: Reduce flickering lights, reduce flickering computer screens, and invest in a reasonably adjustable LED lighting system. Follow the HSE guidelines and regulations for office workstations and invest in a DSO to prevent screen fatigue.
Much the same way you’d adjust to driving a new car. The first ergonomic thing you do in a strange vehicle is to change your seat so you can reach the controls safely and make yourself comfortable to reduce stress. Then you adjust mirrors and find out where the indicator and windshield wiper controls are.
Adjusting the lighting in the home/work office is just as important.