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Thinking smarter about lighting to enhance workplace wellbeing

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Providing lighting that complements the age-related needs and preferences of employees is more critical than ever as the composition of the workforce becomes more diverse, writes Tamlite Lighting’s managing director John Allden.

The idea that lighting can play an important role in providing a workplace that is conducive to wellbeing is now well-established. From the avoidance of glare to a type and quality of illumination that aids concentration, lighting can contribute significantly to the comfort levels of people working in offices, shops and factories. But determining the ‘right’ lighting system in any given location requires careful research and implementation – there are no easy, ‘one size fits all’ solutions.

In the UK, one of the main reasons for this is that the composition of the workforce is undergoing a profound change. Although millennials now comprise more than 50% of all employees, the number of over 65s in work has increased by 188% in the last 20 years. Moreover, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) at the end of 20191, the same group will be responsible for more than half of all UK employment growth over the next 10 years – rising to almost two-thirds by 2060.

It therefore follows that the workplace is becoming more diverse, and with that comes a greater range of expectations about the working environment. Lighting is certainly likely to remain one of the main ‘battlegrounds’ here; for example, millennials typically prefer cool lighting, in the region of 5,000-5,500K, while older generations like the lighting to be warmer, around 3,000-3,500K. Recent years have also seen a trend towards a greater range of activities within the workplace – with younger employees living less desk-centric working lives – and this shift also has implications for lighting.

With our eyes responsible for 80% of the information we gather, there has always been an imperative to provide a well-lit working environment – but several key factors mean that its importance is becoming evermore acute. For instance, there is now a much greater understanding that inadequately illuminated or glare-susceptible lighting systems can contribute to headaches, visual discomfort and even anxiety. There is also the simple fact that many of us are working longer – a trend that is set to intensify for both lifestyle and financial reasons if the recent increase in life expectancies continues.

How it can help to keep more of the workforce healthier, and for longer, should be a primary consideration for any new building project or technology upgrade. In terms of lighting, that means electrical engineers need to collaborate effectively with project managers, consultants, contractors and technology suppliers to identify and install systems that best suit the needs of the entire workforce.

Care and control

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) makes a simple but effective assertion that should be borne in mind during the design of every workplace lighting system. Quoted in its publication HSG 38: Lighting at Work2, the HSE says, “it is important that employers take into account the needs of individuals when assessing their lighting requirements. This should improve employee comfort and wellbeing.”

The more a workplace features a diverse range of ages, the more it can make sense to specify a system based around tunable LED technology – allowing the lighting to be carefully adjusted to meet employee preferences and human circadian rhythms – and overarching control systems. This combination yields greater flexibility in terms of delivering a mixed lighting environment and making it easier to enact changes as requirements evolve.

However, some fundamental aspects of a lighting design will inevitably be informed by the precise composition of a given workforce. In those workplaces with a significant percentage of millennials, there will need to be a greater range of lighting fixtures and locations to suit more diverse working patterns; for instance, there is currently a big trend towards the use of standing desks.

Among older workers with a greater range of sight-related issues, such as macular degeneration, visibility has to be at the top of the agenda. The Society of Light and Lighting’s Providing Visibility for an Ageing Workforce3 is a particularly useful resource here, with its recommendations including the use of light sources with a Colour Rendering Index (CRI) of more than 80; the specification of luminaires that do not allow a view of the light source from common viewing directions; and the increase of the minimum maintained illuminance for ambient lighting to 50% above that recommended for the work.

Engaging with a lighting specialist who can provide expert guidance and a broad range of the latest products remains the most effective fast-track to a lighting solution that is supportive of wellness. And increasingly, that will involve a greater responsiveness to the requirements of age as employers and technology providers look to do everything they can to keep workers healthy, comfortable and productive.


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