Lighting for the home-working; you need it!

The right light for home working

With so many recent newcomers to the concept of working-from-home the quality of the home workspace has, quite rightly, become a major topic of conversation and discussion. 

However, just a cursory search of the internet, LinkedIn, or even the Leesman Index highlights, actually fails-to-illuminate (puns intended…) the almost complete lack of discussion around the subject of appropriate lighting. 

Spotlight on home working

There seems to be a very worrying trend right now and that is the head-in the-sand attitude many employers are showing for their “duty-of-care” responsibilities towards their home-working employees – in all respects but especially with regards lighting. 

This is not new; although I have primarily worked from home office for over 20 years, amongst the six different employers I have had only ONE of them has asked me to fill out a document regarding the suitability of my home-working environment, and despite that one being a lighting company even they didn’t ask about my lighting! 

If you work in an office, or any other type of workspace, you will probably (hopefully) find that the lighting in your workspace has been designed and installed according to the LG7 and/or BS EN 12464-1 guidelines for lighting in the workplace. 

These guidelines form part of our national building regulations and although the majority of people will never have heard of them, if you are a designer/contractor/owner/tenant/manager of a workplace there is a high chance you have; and that you will not have had your planning permission or building control documents signed off without compliance to the lighting requirements.  

Employers take note: if your lighting is non-compliant you are (usually) not breaking the law, but in the case of a lawsuit against you regarding the lighting adversely affecting users’ occupational health you will have a difficult case to answer. 

Lighting impact 

How does insufficient lighting have a negative effect? Light levels that are too low, or lights that flicker, or are too bright in your line-of-sight can cause eyestrain, headaches, and migraines; even dizziness, and in the worst cases, epileptic fits. From my personal experience I’ve experienced nausea from flickering lights conflicting with flickering computer screens. 

Poor lighting can decrease concentration levels and increase error rates. It’s not only artificial light that can be a problem. Natural light – the best (and cheapest!) of lighting – can have some of the same detrimental effects if it’s uncontrolled; think sunlight causing bright spots or heavy shadows on your desktop, or a bright window right in front of you. A suitable window blind can be your saviour for this; and we have national lighting guidelines for a reason! 

Not my problem 

“That’s all very well”, some employers are thinking, “my employees now work from home; it’s not my problem”. The thing is, if their home is now their “designated workplace” – where the majority (or all) of their working time is spent – then it IS the employer’s problem and the employer needs to consider their employee’s occupational health at home! 

In practice this means all sorts of things need to be considered such as chairs, desks, mental health and lighting. 

Assuming most home-workers are doing some form of office-type activity what do we need to be aware of? Firstly, the actual light level. For office based tasks at a desk the LG7 guidelines stipulate an average of 500 lux on the desktopLux is a measure of the quantity of light, and 500 lux is deemed sufficient for reading and writing and similar tasks – the desktop light level can be reduced to 300 lux if the user is almost entirely engaged in screen-based tasks with little reading or writing on paper. It is also important to consider that as your eyes get older the amount of light needed to be able to see as well as younger eyes is increased. 

The uniformity of the lighting is important as well. Although we are looking for an average light level across the desk-top it wouldn’t be acceptable to have ten times more light at one end of the desk than the other – even if the average did end up close to the correct amount. 

A good quality desk-lamp (task-light) can help achieve 300 lux or more, albeit in a relatively small area, which could be enough if you only have a very small desk in a relatively well-lit roomthough it isn’t that great at providing good uniformity on a larger desk – and there is another LG7 factor that the humble task-light can’t help with: The surroundings. 

There are requirements to have a certain amount of light beyond the desk-top too; even the walls and ceiling should be lit to defined minimum amount – the more the better actually (within reason). 

Lighting the way 

In practice we are rarely going to find perfect LG7 compliant lighting in every home. A home is a home first-and-foremost and it is not necessarily achievable, or even appropriate, to install office lighting in a home. 

However, it is important to have lighting that gets as close as possible to this ideal during work hours; remember, we are talking about occupational health – about people’s wellbeing – not about ticking boxes for the sake of it. 

One of the easiest and least intrusive ways to sufficiently light your home “workplace” is to direct a significant amount of light onto the ceiling so that it bounces back down in a diffused way (assuming the ceiling is white or light coloured). You can experiment with this by using any movable light you have to hand. When it is dark, point the light at the ceiling and see how large an area you can light up compared with when you direct the light at the floor or the desk. Also, you’ll notice shadows are much reduced and softer. 

Low contrast lighting like this may not be to your taste if you prefer dramatic highlights and shadows – that’s fine for your domestic life – but while you are trying to do your desk-based work low-contrast lighting is key. 

If you were using a generic domestic light or torch to try the above experiment you will probably have noticed that the light level is quite low in the places where I have just told you it should be higher. Partly this will be down to the power (the wattage) of the light you are using and partly it will be down to the way it is distributing the light rays. Domestic lights are rarely up to the job (another pun; intended). 

Luckily there are easy solutions to these problems and Fusion Spaces – collaborating with Waldmann Lighting – are at the forefront of providing them. 

In my next blog post I will explain some of the ways in which you can achieve suitable “workplace” lighting in your home – without turning your home into an office. 

If you are desperate and can’t wait to find out, get in touch with Fusion Spaces so we can work through it together. 

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Jim Ashley-Down

Jim has been working in the lighting industry for over 23 years; first in the theatre, graduating from Rose Bruford with a degree in performance lighting design, then moving into architectural lighting and running his own lighting design consultancy for a number of years. In 2009 Jim transferred to the manufacturing side of the industry and is now Country Manager for the UK and Ireland at Waldmann, a family-owned German lighting manufacturer founded in 1928

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