The modern quest to maximise the energy efficiency of lighting may have overshadowed the wider benefits of lighting on employee well-being, says Eaton's Andy Gallacher.
11 April 2017 | Andy Gallacher
In the race to reduce the cost and environmental impact of energy use in buildings, lighting has been a prime target, with the rise of LED technologies enabling simple savings.
But properly designed and carefully implemented lighting schemes can have a beneficial effect on the well-being and productivity of employees, which in turn creates a platform for business growth. Energy-saving measures and enhancement of working spaces need not be mutually exclusive, given the potential of emerging technologies.
The role of lighting
In its guidance to employers, the Health and Safety Executive recommends that lighting should be considered principally at the design stage, but it also emphasises the importance of ensuring that the lighting is suited to the specific tasks being carried out.
Poor lighting will have a detrimental effect on a person's ability to perform tasks. Evidence also suggests that it can contribute to low moods and can even reduce productivity. This is outlined in Lighting for People, a research paper produced as part of the European Union's programme for research and technological development.
Giving workers in open-plan offices control of lighting can increase job satisfaction and decrease stress. One way to do this is to give employees a seat at the decision-making table regarding any changes to lighting. They are among the stakeholder groups that should be represented in discussions about this important aspect of the working environment.
New technology is bringing control of lighting closer to the workforce, to the point where individual staff members can choose how their workspace is lit via a smartphone or laptop. Bluetooth can enable communication between the user's device and their nearest luminaire, while protocols such as ZigBee control the luminaire, enabling the user to brighten or dim the light according to their needs.
It is important to point out, however, that this is an area of innovation, with a variable array of offerings on the market and no industry standards defined as yet. This will be vital, not only as a reassurance of quality but also because, like other components of a smart building, lighting systems are potentially vulnerable to hacking. Security is a concern that must be addressed.
One of the greatest advantages of recent advancements in LED technology (traditionally characterised as a cold, blue-tinged light) is the wide range of colours and tones that are now available. But whatever the advantages of the latest luminaires, they must be considered in the context of their relationship with natural light sources; any consideration of a building's lighting should encompass both artificial lighting and natural daylight. Achieving a balance between the two is a goal of best practice.
The move towards more human-centric lighting is under way. By using the latest LED technology, FMs can control and adapt the content, intensity, duration and timing of lighting during the day to match circadian rhythms.
A big challenge is designing lighting systems for night workers and the UK's ageing workforce. As we get older, our vision reduces, as does the body's ability to take in light. Biodynamic lighting has a vital role to play in the workplace.
Andy Gallacher is product marketing manager at Eaton