Philips Lighting questions proper light-level standards for office workers

March 18, 2015
Research indicates that workers of age 45 and above need more task light than the typically-recommended 500-lx levels for office applications, and Philips has developed an interactive widget allowing workers to test their lighting.

Research indicates that workers of age 45 and above need more task light than the typically-recommended 500-lx levels for office applications, and Philips has developed an interactive widget allowing workers to test their lighting.

Philips Lighting has issued a challenge to the regulatory bodies that specify light levels for various commercial-workplace scenarios to reconsider specifications given the broad age range in the workforce. In office scenarios, for instance, Philips said the 500-lx (50-fc) level that's typically specified for office task lighting is insufficient for workers of age 45 and above. Moreover, Philips has released a widget using Facebook that allows office workers to test the light level in their own office setting.

Philips specifically targeted the European market in the light-level initiative, but the message is easily applicable to North American and other regions. The company said that 500 lx is specified for office workers typing and reading documents by the European lighting standard — EN12464-1:2011: “Light and lighting – Lighting of work places – Part 1: Indoor work places." The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends 50 fc or even 75 fc for workers using LCDs in its own lighting standards.

The levels mentioned above may be sufficient for younger workers, but not for older workers. Philips noted research that documents a deterioration of near-sight vision that typically begins at age 45. The company said that a 45-year-old worker may need almost double the light level of a 20-year-old. And a 60-year-old may need five times as much light.

"People often call off sick due to headaches and fatigue. These symptoms may have many underlying causes but perhaps one of these could be the result of prolonged eye-strain due to poor lighting conditions in their working lives," said Dr. Bianca van der Zande, principal scientist at Philips Lighting. "Inadequate lighting can lead to visual discomfort, neck pain, headaches, fatigue, and perhaps eventually sick leave."

Realize, however, that Philips isn’t suggesting that regulatory bodies increase recommended levels across the board. Doing so could needlessly waste energy. Instead, the company said employees need to be given the freedom to set light levels in their own workspaces.

Philips cites a study that it conducted in 2013 involving a desk lamp that allowed workers to set light levels and adjust color temperature for visual comfort. The study revealed that 90% of workers reported sharper vision and improved eye comfort.

We've seen office-intended LED-based lighting products emerge to enable just such capabilities. For example, The Lighting Quotient introduced a workstation luminaire last summer that can deliver individualized task and ambient light levels. And earlier this week we covered a new floor-standing office luminaire from Zumtobel that could enable customized settings.

The required range in office lighting can be significant, according to Philips. The company cited yet another lighting standards study indicating that 1000 lx was needed for tasks involving intense focus. But the same study indicates that workers in creative phases are more productive in low light levels. Individually-controlled light levels ensure that adjacent workers each can enjoy optimum conditions for the task at hand.

"Regulatory bodies should take these findings into account for the wellbeing and productivity of today’s workforce," said van der Zande. "People spend 80-90% of their time indoors from which around 20% is spent at work, so the indoor environment determines to a large extent the comfort and wellbeing of the office employee, influencing their performance. It is important that human-centric lighting becomes a part of the regulatory standards, allowing architects and building designers to advise for the best solutions – not only for offices, but for all building environments."

Philips is offering a project at the new Deloitte headquarters in Amsterdam as the best way to approach individual control of workspaces. We covered the work in progress on the project as released by Philips a year ago at Light+Building. There are numerous innovations in the project including the use of Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) technology to supply DC power to luminaires and to enable network connections to each. Employees can then use their smartphones to set their own workspace light levels. Of course, programmatic and autonomous controls can still serve to extinguish lights for optimum energy savings when workers aren’t present.