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See the light

Sam Rylands, Marketing Manager for DURABLE UK, explains why visual ergonomics are the next logical step in workplace lighting

Mega-trends like increased digitisation, individualisation and urbanisation are rapidly changing the way we work. Stereotypical offices are a thing of the past, and co-working and home offices are now part of normal working life. But are these working environments fit for purpose?

Ergonomic workspaces are playing a growing role in today’s working world. These require innovations such as desk-sharing workstations that allow different users to adjust the desk height, seating and monitor position. Acoustic systems are needed to absorb increased noise along with improved ventilation and air conditioning to support better air quality.

However, there is one essential aspect of workplace ergonomics that tends to be overlooked. According to workers, light is one of the most important features of a work space – but only 57 per cent are satisfied with the levels in their own working environment (1).

Surveys also show that lack of natural light would deter 38 per cent of job seekers (2).

Perhaps it’s time FMs took a closer look at lighting in their buildings.

When planning a workplace, lighting designers often operate on the principle that the definition of ‘light’ is ‘enough to be able to see well and cope with the tasks that will be undertaken in the space’. That begs the question of how much light is ‘enough’. Different people have different needs. As a result of the darkening of the eye lens with age, a 60-year-old requires approximately two to two and a half times as much illuminance as someone in their mid-twenties to achieve comparable vision.

There are other factors at play, too. Everyone has a personal daily circadian rhythm, which is driven by light and roughly synchronised with day and night. Clinical studies (3) have proven that modern LED lamps able to closely replicate the colour spectrum of sunlight – such as the Luctra range of human-centric luminaires – affect the body’s production of the hormone melatonin (just like sunlight). These lamps can give you the same biological ‘triggers’ as you get outside, even when you are indoors.

Biologically effective light can:

  • Provide the body with light signals that set its internal clock in an indoor environment
  • Have a stabilising effect on our biological rhythm
  • Help avoid the consequences of a disrupted circadian rhythm, such as insomnia, irritability and lack of concentration
  • Encourage longer and deeper sleep
  • Encourage better wellbeing and performance.

Planning regulations for new and renovated buildings aim to ensure a minimum level of illuminance and uniformity of light distribution. But there are a few flaws.

A single source of uniform light cannot be adjusted, for example, and therefore does not fit with the principles of agile working. Uniform light does not take account of the fact that individual users require different levels of illuminance to work effectively. Plus the regulations do not embrace the latest findings on the biological effect of light.

It can be argued that traditional lighting approaches are failing to keep pace with other aspects of the workplace in adapting to modern working. They no longer fit the new work order. But an approach known as visual ergonomics is set to change this.

Visual ergonomics means providing flexible workplace lighting. Just as a user can adjust an office chair to suit their requirements, so the light over a workstation can be changed. Visual ergonomics allows the user to individually adjust light illuminance and colour temperature over their workspace, and move the light to suit their working preferences. Solutions are available with presence and light sensors to adjust the lighting automatically and turn it on and off, according to the prevailing conditions.

There are several benefits to this new approach to lighting. By giving individual workers control over factors such as illuminance levels and colour temperature, they not only gain a better, bespoke quality of lighting, they acquire a sense of empowerment. People who have a measure of control over their own working conditions have increased job satisfaction and improved productivity. This effect is enhanced if the control system is tailored to the individual’s preferences – via a touch panel or app, for example.

Flexible, localised lighting is also economic. State-of-the-art LED sources are efficient and virtually maintenance-free. There is no need to install expensive and cumbersome overhead lighting; instead, a mix of desk and floor lamps can be matched to the environment, illuminating a single workstation or bank of desks, for example. Coupled with sensors that adjust the lighting according to light levels, or turn it off if no one is present, these systems reduce energy consumption, further saving costs.

About Sarah OBeirne

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