Shed a little light on lighting ergonomics

By: December 23rd, 2010 Email This Post Print This Post

The following is an excerpt from the Complete Guide to Laboratory Safety, Third Edition, by Terry Jo Gile. To purchase this book, click here.

Ergonomics is the science of designing tools, furniture, machines, or work processes to make them safer and more efficient for human use. Ergonomic design attempts to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), such as repetitive motion injuries and back strains. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has an eTool that provides guidance for ergonomics in the healthcare setting, but it has not developed guidelines specifically for medical labs. It is important for laboratories to weigh ergonomics factors in choosing lab furniture and equipment.

Lighting is also of importance in ergonomics, with many of the same applicable principles. One important consideration is comfort, especially as employees age. Ambient lighting or daylight can and should be used when it is available. Task lighting should be no more than three times brighter than available ambient light. The type of task should dictate your decision about optimal lighting. Lighting at a computer workstation needs to be adequate to see both the screen and the papers on the desk. There should be no bright light on the computer, because it washes out images on the screen. Flat screens are very helpful, or you can turn off overhead lights or take out some of the fluorescent bulbs to reduce light. Promptly change florescent bulbs if they begin to flicker. In a four-bulb light fixture, remove the middle two, if possible.

Ergonomic lighting is a very important aspect of a healthy laboratory environment, but the appropriate lighting at your workstation depends on the job being performed. Here are some points to consider:

  • Use bright lights when a large lighted area while working with printed materials
  • Limit the use of bright light for computer tasks
  • Light sources and their intensity levels should be adjustable by position and angle
  • To diffuse light, you need a hood or filter, and they are best used when performing desk jobs

General lighting usually provides approximately 300-500 lux. The following are recommended light levels:

  • Working at a computer: 500-700 lux
  • Normal desk work: 500-1,000 lux
  • Reading and visually demanding work: 1,000-2,000 lux

Anytime you can, use an indirect or shielded light. This is especially helpful with employees who can have vision problems. If all else fails, use blinds or drapes on windows.


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