Bad lighting in the workplace is associated with a range of health issues from eye strain and posture to lethargy and attention problems, however in environments such as factories, warehouses and distribution centres, a dark or dimly lit facility can lead to injuries and even fatalities.
That is the stark warning from Martin Needham, managing director of Leicestershire-based luminaire specialist, Ecolighting.
“In busy warehouses poor illumination can have serious consequences and should be treated as a significant health and safety issue,” he says.
“Obviously, if you make it easier for workers to see a hazard, you make it easier for them to avoid it. But we are frequently contacted by companies following a serious health and safety incident.”
According to Martin Needham, it is important that employers regularly review lighting to highlight any light-related issues that may cause harm or injury.
“Lighting hazards in the workplace are often the result of incorrect lighting design,” he explains.
“Often companies buy or lease an empty building where the lighting is just about adequate but once obstacles like racking or machinery are installed, the light levels drop dramatically”
He continues: “Too many companies give very little thought to designing a lighting system and, as a result, end up with inadequate lighting that burns more energy than is necessary.”
When designing a lighting system – for a new building or as an upgrade within an existing facility – it is important to:
• Design for a uniform level of lighting, preventing eye strain
• Use accurate reflectancy levels
• Design to levels equal to or above CIBSE guidelines
• Use a colour rendering that promotes the feeling of wellbeing and productivity
• Ensure adequate emergency lighting is considered
• Position fixtures in relevant places, relative to activity and walkways
• Pay particular attention to hazardous areas
• Ensure the lighting is high enough to avoid collisions with workers/machinery
Perhaps surprisingly there are no statutory workplace lighting levels in the UK. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations simply require that lighting at work is ‘suitable and sufficient’ and that, ‘where reasonably practicable’, workplaces are lit by natural light. Guidelines for these levels can be found from CIBSE (Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers) and they have been generally adopted as best practice across the industry.
“Although the HSE has the power to take action against firms where inadequate, broken or poorly maintained lighting is deemed to be causing a risk to worker safety, it rarely does so,” says Martin Needham.
“But employers have responsibilities for the health and safety of their workers and because badly specified, sited or maintained lighting can lead to accidents as well as under performing staff, workplace illumination should never be overlooked.”