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Lighting in the workplace

Lighting and workplace health can go hand in hand…
...with careful planning and implementation – and, before all that, a thorough grounding in the basics of industrial lighting. Plant Engineer identifies a route that can lead to the satisfaction of workplace owners and personnel alike.

“Companies looking to achieve the best possible result for their employees are advised to seek out specialist lighting suppliers who can offer a wealth of support before and after the specification process.” Colin Lawson, Tamlite.

Barely a day goes by now without news of a significant initiative aimed at boosting, or raising awareness of, workplace health. For example, at the time of writing, it had just been announced that the newly-formed Workplace Health and Wellbeing Service is aiming to reach more than 200 new businesses annually over three years in Northern Ireland. Lunchtime exercises, weight loss programmes and ‘cycle to work’ schemes will all feature in the initiative, which encourages companies to carefully monitor the needs of employees and identify what are termed ‘workplace health champions’.
But whilst employee behaviour is undoubtedly a fundamental aspect of the healthy workplace, the technology that underpins their environment is every bit as crucial. Plentiful supply of fresh air, effective ventilation, and comfortable and consistent lighting are among the essential requirements of a building’s primary systems.

Specific regulations regarding workplace environment have been in place for many years now, but in recent times they have grown in extent and become increasingly scrupulous – good news, of course, for those employers who really take their workers’ long-term health seriously and wish to take every possible step to maximise it. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) (WHSW) regulations are among those to have been introduced in the UK, while Government-related bodies have also issued extensive advice in the form of documents such as Lighting at Work, which is billed as providing ‘holistic’ study guidance of how lighting affects the health and safety of people at work. Among other aspects, the guide examines three primary considerations: the assessment and management of risks attributable to poor lighting; what constitutes good practice; and the minimum recommended levels.

Poor lighting = poor health?
When businesses begin to think seriously about ensuring their lighting is ‘fit for purpose’, they will initially focus on the more obvious results of poor lighting – eyestrain, migraines, headaches and so on. But there are also many other, less widely understood implications, such as what has come to be known as ‘sick building syndrome’. Diminished concentration, lack of energy and headaches are among the many possible side-effects in this scenario.

Of course, compromised workplace health is by no means the only consequence of inadequate lighting. In manufacturing and industrial environments, poor illumination can be a factor in employees incurring accidents – or worse. Workplace lighting, it is clear, can certainly end up becoming a matter of life and death.

With the heat given off by some light sources also having a negative impact on some personnel, there is no denying that the stakes are high indeed when it comes to specifying a suitable lighting system. Cutting corners or failing to undertake sufficient reading and research can lead a business to make the wrong choices – possibly leading to a succession of renewal projects that could end up generating costs far greater than those which would have resulted from a more substantial (and considered) initial outlay.

Colin Lawson is Head of Sales, Marketing and Product Development at Tamlite, a UK-based lighting supplier whose heritage stretches back nearly 50 years. In his view, “making the right choices about system design and installation is absolutely crucial. Given that this is something which is very much easier said than done, it stands to reason that eliciting specialist assistance throughout the process – and after it, in terms of post-installation support – is the safest way of ensuring success.”

Lux levels
First and foremost, it is important to be able to identify a lighting system that is capable of delivering the appropriate levels of illumination to the plant. In this regard we can make a number of general but useful observations, although again it is only by enlisting specialist guidance that the optimum solution can be achieved.

If one bears in mind that the outdoor light level is approximately 10000 lux on a clear day, it is interesting to note that in the areas closest to the windows the lux level may be reduced to a mere 1000 lux. Beyond that, in the deepest internal areas, that figure can drop to just 25 or 50 lux. This obviously calls for substantial enhancement by workplace lighting, and one that must necessarily be consistent and reliable.

Ideas about optimum illumination obviously change over time, and it is arguable that perceptions in this area have shifted in recent years. Once upon a time, 100-300 lux levels were regarded as adequate for usual activities. These days a figure in the range of 500-100 lux is more common, while for more intense and careful activities a level of 1500+ may be desired.

“It would be fair to say that there are a lot of variables that need to be taken into account when thinking about workplace lighting, but taking the time and trouble to explore the range and diversity of available systems can definitely pay dividends,” says Lawson. “In addition, those businesses that look to deploy lighting with occupancy sensors and management/control systems can really ensure that they maximise the savings resulting from their new systems. It has been shown that energy bills can be reduced significantly – sometimes as much as 30 or 40% – by deploying such systems, so it’s certainly not something that should be overlooked.

“It can also help companies to meet long-term carbon efficiency targets – both those set within the business and on a local/national level. That’s an area where expectations are likely to become considerably more demanding in the years ahead, so exploring these other options now could help them cut out a lot of hassle and expense in the future.”

Value of research
While traditional lighting types remain popular for industrial circles at this time, an increasing number of companies are seeking to benefit from the energy-efficient and low-maintenance nature of LED lighting. Once again, the results can be breathtaking, but the fact remains that with LED there are even more boxes that need to be ticked, including the identification of the appropriate colour rendering index, colour temperature, wattage and light output figure. Customers will also want to ensure that they select products featuring chips from the most well-respected manufacturers.

With an abundance of high quality (and cost-sensitive) industrial lighting systems now available, there is no reason to put up with inadequate lighting in the workplace. Some installations do still fail to reach their promise, generally because of inadequate or incomplete research in the earlier stages. But if specialist advice is sought, there is every chance that a workplace will be able to optimise its lighting and achieve long-term benefits for all its employees – not to mention its owners since reduced energy bills and maintenance costs are very likely to be a byproduct of the process.

Plant Engineer - Lighting in the workplace