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Workplace Lighting Standards

Lighting in a variety of workplace settings including an office, warehouse, hospital, and commercial building exterior. These are examples of areas that may have OSHA lighting requirements for a safe work environment.

While it isn’t a topic often considered by companies and employers, workplace lighting is a critical component of workplace safety across the country. It also has a significant effect on the overall efficiency of workers as well as the quality of the work they produce. It therefore is important that building managers and decision makers make quality lighting a top priority for the workplace.

In fact, lighting is such a serious concern for workplace safety that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), has created their own standard for lighting in workplaces in the United States. OSHA recognizes the importance this plays in preventing workplace accidents as well as ensuring comfortable working conditions with minimal strain on worker vision. While many employers may feel that these regulations are a bit overbearing, they will find that the long term benefits of quality lighting far outweigh the initial investment costs.

Lighting Requirements Per OSHA

As one might expect, OSHA has a wide range of workplace lighting standards that cover everything from recommended lighting levels for certain applications to the specifics of fixture construction – and all sorts of other topics in between. In order to understand these requirements, there is a set of definitions that must be understood first. Below is a list of both lighting definitions and OSHA terms:

Foot Candle – A measurement of light output, defined as the amount of illumination produced by a candle at a distance of one foot away. Because different types of work environments require different levels of illumination, OSHA sets minimum lighting requirements for each in foot-cantles (ft-c).

Lux Level – This is the measurement of light intensity. One lux is defined as the amount of illumination supplied by one candle upon a one meter surface area from the distance of one meter away from the candle.

OSHA 1910 Illumination Standards – This is the requirement subpart of OSHA lighting standards which details the examination, installation and use of electrical equipment as well as exit routes and emergency planning for workplaces.

OSHA 1915 Subpart F – Deals with illumination requirements for working conditions in shipyards.

OSHA 1926 Subpart D – This subpart details construction area lighting standards.

Office Space Lighting Level Recommendations

The level of illumination selected for an office workplace is highly dependent on the specifics of the environment. Certain factors such as the type and brightness of a computer monitor can have an effect on the type of lighting selected, as lighting that is too intense can cause eye strain when trying to read text or view images on a screen. Basically, more is not always better when it comes to office lighting, and instead the best selection is that which appropriately matches the rest of the environment.

OSHA recognizes this and has made specific recommendations in order to help business owners and companies select the appropriate lighting level for their office workspaces. Below is a list of the most important recommendations:

  • Orientate rows of diffuse lights in parallel to the line of sight for workstations
  • Make sure desks, tables and other task areas have supplemental lighting
  • Install blinds on exterior windows to prevent bright light from blinding workers. Specifically, use vertical blinds for windows on the east and west sides of the building and horizontal blinds for windows facing north and south.
  • Make sure computers in workspaces are oriented so outside light is at a right angle to the screen
  • Select light colors with matte finishes for wall and ceiling paint in order to soften the reflection of light as well as to reduce contrast and glare.

Generalized Workspace Lighting Standards

While the exact amount of lighting selected is still dependent on the specific situation and environment, there are generalized standards which are applicable across a wide range of workplace types. Below are a list of general foot candle illumination standards based on the area:

  • General Construction: 5 ft-c
  • Plants and Shops: 10 ft-c
  • First Aid Stations, Hospitals and Infirmaries: 30 ft-c
  • Warehouses, walkways, exits: 10 ft-c
  • Underground shafts, tunnels, mines: 5 ft-c
  • Waste areas, loading platforms, refueling areas, active storage areas: 3 ft-c

Additionally, below are a list of common lux levels required in certain commercial applications:

  • Offices, laboratories, show rooms and retail locations: 500 lux
  • Factories, workshops and auto shops: 750 lux
  • Warehouse loading bays and areas of ingress/egress: 300-400 lux
  • Lobbies, corridors, stairwells and common areas: 200 lux
  • Warehouse aisles: 100-200 lux

OSHA Fixture Requirements

In addition to illumination requirements, OSHA also specifies certain requirements surrounding the construction and installation of lighting fixtures. These requirements are put in place to ensure that fixtures cannot be damaged and also to ensure that they do not pose any safety risk to workers. Below is a list of these OSHA requirements:

  • All light fixtures must have protective plates
  • Must be a minimum of seven feet above work surfaces or alternatively must have an OSHA-compliant shatterproof shield
  • No exposed or live parts
  • Fixtures are not allowed to have opening large enough to put a finger through
  • Must be firmly mounted to wall or ceiling

Despite the clear guidelines and requirements from OSHA, unfortunately situations occur where companies fall short in lighting compliance. This can result in safety concerns, as well as costly OSHA citations. In order to prevent these problems, it is wise to have a regular inspection regimen for all lighting fixtures and to use a light meter or lux meter to measure illumination levels to ensure they are within acceptable ranges.

OSHA Compliance Benefits

It should be obvious that it is beneficial for workplaces to be in OSHA compliance at all times in order to avoid fines and citations. However there are additional financial benefits to having proper lightning in the workplace. One of these is the increase in productivity. People work better with adequate lighting, due to their environment being more comfortable. The increase in comfort means employees typically will have a better mood and higher job satisfaction, which in turn leads to higher productivity and increased profitability for the company.

Modern lighting produces an exceptionally good quality of light, thanks to improvements in LED technology. The accuracy of a light in replicating color is measured using the Color Rendering Index, or CRI. Lights manufactured today have exceptionally high accuracy, many with a CRI of 90 or above. This dramatically improves visibility, which has obvious benefits for safety and productivity. Additionally, modern lighting is available in a wide range of color temperatures, which gives users the ability to tailor their lighting specifically to their environment, making it as effective as possible.

An additional benefit of proper lighting is an increase in safety. Having adequate illumination allows employees to properly see their work, their surroundings and be more aware of hazards and prevent mistakes. All of this helps a company maintain a good safety record, which can have numerous benefits to their reputation. In today’s business environment safety compliance is taken very seriously and customers, business partners and employees will not want to work with a company that doesn’t have a good safety record.

Non-Compliance Risks

Given all that has been discussed surrounding workplace lighting requirements, it may seem surprising that companies might be tempted to skirt their compliance obligations. However this is unfortunately not the case and the risks of non-compliance should be explained to help illustrate why it is a poor choice. OSHA inspectors are thorough and will find any possible way that a business is out of compliance, including any lighting compliance violations. Companies that are out of compliance should expect to face a citation that carries with it a heavy fine. Below is a list of the current penalties for workplace lighting violations, as of January 15, 2021:

  • Serious Violations: $13,653 per violation
  • Failure to Resolve Prior Violation: $13,653 per day after the abatement date
  • Willful or repeated violation: $136,532 per violation

In addition to the the fines from OSHA citations, being non-compliant with workplace lighting requirements also carries with it serious risks of expensive and potentially business closing collateral damages, which includes:

  • Liability lawsuits, including but not limited to workers compensation, personal injury or even wrongful death.
  • Parallel inspections, as well as repeat citations. This can occur in multiple locations and facilities, magnifying the financial impact to a business.
  • Can result in additional sanctions from other agencies such as the EPA or DOL
  • Allegations made of intentional disregard, which can result in punitive damages and even criminal charges.
  • Ruining of the company’s reputation, which when combined with bad press can destroy contracts, reduce the number of projects and torpedo future chances at business partnerships and opportunities.

Compliance with lighting standards might not be high up on most companies priority list. But given the information presented and the benefits of compliance vs non-compliance, it should be quite clear that workplace lighting requirements do have the potential to significantly impact a company’s bottom line. One of the best ways to ensure a company is on the right track is to frequently monitor and maintain workplace lighting in order to ensure it passes OSHA standards.