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Lighting at work is very important to the health and safety of everyone using the workplace. The quicker and easier it is to see a hazard, the more easily it is avoided. The types of hazard present at work therefore determine the lighting requirements for safe operation.  Poor lighting can not only affect the health of people at work causing symptoms like eyestrain, migraine and headaches, but it is also linked to Sick Building Syndrome in new and refurbished buildings. Symptoms of this include headaches, lethargy, irritability and poor concentration.  

Employers, the self-employed and people in control of non-domestic premises have a duty to ensure that lighting is safe and does not pose a health risk to employees and others who may use their premises. Employers are also required to consult their employees on health and safety matters.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to have arrangements in place to cover health and safety. This includes lighting which needs to be suitable and adequate to meet the requirements of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. The following principles can be used to manage health and safety in the workplace.
Planning - Employers need to identify priorities and set targets for improvement. For example, they will need to assess whether the lighting design is suitable and safe for the type of work being done. They also need to consider any future changes in the work conditions as this may require different lighting design. The costs and benefits of different lighting design will then need to be considered together with the suitability of lighting for the workplace.
Organisation - Organising for health and safety involves the provision of staff with the necessary training and appropriate equipment to do their job safely. This includes those responsible for lighting maintenance. Employers also need to ensure that staff are aware of their responsibility towards their own health and safety and that of other people. For example, it is important that employees notify their employers, or those responsible for health and safety, if lighting is faulty or damaged.   Employers need to include staff in the planning and promotion of health and safety, as it is often staff that are the first to notice any health and safety hazards. If employers involve staff it will ensure that they are committed to improving health and safety at work.
Control - Controlling health and safety risks includes the setting of standards and maintaining them. Standards set need to be realistic and measurable, and may include lighting maintenance, which can coincide with general maintenance so that it does not interfere with work activities. This would then ensure that lighting is checked on a regular basis and that correct lighting levels are maintained.
Monitoring - The monitoring and reviewing of lighting conditions is important in ensuring proper health and safety performance. Monitoring involves checking how far set standards have been met. Reviewing involves the checking of standards, planning, control and organisation and changing them when necessary to improve health and safety. For example, installing new lighting designs may create different health and safety risks; therefore standards may need to be changed or altered.
Risk assessment - Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers must assess possible risks in the workplace. In practice, this includes considering whether work lighting arrangements are satisfactory, or whether they pose any significant risks to staff using the workplace. Where there is a possible risk to employees, action needs to be taken to remove, reduce or control the risk.

It is important that lighting in the workplace:

  • Allows people to notice hazards and assess risks
  • Is suitable for the environment and the type of work (for example, it is not located against surfaces or materials that may be flammable)
  • Provides sufficient light (illuminance on the task)
  • Allows people to see properly and discriminate between colours, to promote safety
  • Does not cause glare, flicker or stroboscopic effects
  • Avoids the effects of veiling reflections
  • Does not result in excessive differences in illuminance within an area or between adjacent areas
  • Is suitable to meet the special needs of individuals
  • Does not pose a health and safety risk itself
  • Is suitably positioned so that it may be properly maintained or replaced, and disposed of to ensure safety
  • Includes, when necessary, suitable and safe emergency lighting.

Most people prefer to work in natural daylight, therefore it is important to make full use of it. Daylight by itself does not usually provide sufficient illuminance throughout the whole working area or for the entire working day; in most circumstances sufficient and suitable lighting can be provided by a combination of natural and artificial lighting. However, some workplaces have no natural light owing to architectural layout, and in these cases suitable artificial lighting needs to be present, so that work can be done safely and efficiently.  Natural light on its own, or combined with artificial lighting, can be a source of glare and/or reflections. Where it is not possible to adjust the position or location of the display screen or work station, adjusting the illuminance in the workplace may solve the problem. If not, anti-glare screens for VDUs may be used as a last resort.