What to consider
Good lighting is essential in the office so employees can work productively and comfortably. Appropriate lighting can help prevent incidents in the workplace by increasing visibility and safety. When deciding on lighting for a workplace, consider:
- the nature of the work activity
- the tasks or activities performed, how often and for how long these are performed
- the nature of hazards and risks in the workplace
- the work environment
- the amount of light in an area, both natural and artificial light
- the number, type and position of light sources
- changes in natural light during the day
In general, good lighting should allow employees to easily view their work and environment without straining their eyes. However, different activities require different levels and qualities of light.
The visual demands of the work will determine the lighting needs of an area. Activities that do not require a high level of clear vision, for example, walking through a corridor, do not require high levels or quality of light. On the other hand, tasks such as drawing or checking a document for errors involve fine and detailed work and require a moderate to high level of vision and greater levels and a higher quality of light.
If the workplace is a building, employers need to comply with the lighting specifications contained in the National Construction Code, Part F4 Light and Ventilation (Performance Requirements), available on the Australian Building Codes Board website.
Humans are able to see quite well in a wide range of lighting levels because our eyes can adapt to different lighting conditions. For example, your eyes adapt when you move from a bright room into a relatively dark area. Particular types of tasks have recommended levels of lighting to reduce the demands on your eyes and the need to adapt when changing tasks or viewing fields.
How light is measured
A light meter, also known as a lux meter, can measure the amount of light in an area. The light meter measures the amount of light falling onto a surface, which is known as the illuminance of that surface. Illuminance is measured in lux. The table on this page shows Australian-New Zealand Standards-recommended illuminance for different types of work. The levels for the different types of work areas are approximate. You will find more information about lighting levels in the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1680.1:2006: Interior and Workplace Lighting, Part 1: General Principles and Recommendations.
Australian-New Zealand Standards guidelines for lighting levels
|Class of task||Recommended maintained illuminance (lux)||Characteristics of the activity/interior||Representative activities/interiors|
|Movement and orientation||40||Rarely visited interiors with visual tasks limited to movement and orientation||Corridors, walkways|
|Intermittent use||80||Interiors requiring intermittent use with visual tasks limited to movement and orientation||Staff change rooms, locker rooms|
|Simple||160||Occasional reading of clearly printed documents for short periods||Waiting rooms, entrance halls|
|Ordinary or moderately easy||240||Continuously occupied interiors with moderately easy visual tasks with high contrasts or large detail||Computer use|
|Moderately difficult||320 - 400||Areas where visual tasks are moderately difficult with moderate detail or with low contrasts||Routine office tasks such as reading, writing, typing, inquiry desks|
|Difficult||600||Areas where visual tasks are difficult with small detail or with low contrast||Drawing boards, most inspection tasks, proofreading|
Quality of light
Quality of light refers to the level of lighting and other factors that affect how well people are able to perform a task. Factors affecting quality of light include:
- the number of lights in use. Having the correct number of lights will provide evenness of lighting over the area
- the type of lights, for example fluorescent tubes, compact fluorescent, LED, tungsten and halogen lights. Fluorescent is among the most common types of office lighting. It is most like natural light and its tubes are long-lasting. Fluorescent lights can provide different qualities of light, such as white, warm, natural, daylight or colours
- the type of light fittings used. The design of light fittings can influence the direction of lighting
- the position of the lights. Lights should be positioned to illuminate workstations
- how colours appear under the lights
- maintenance of the lighting system
Take all these factors into account when planning lighting for office environments and consider consulting a lighting designer when designing lighting in a new office area.
General lighting issues
Glare in a work area
Glare occurs when one part of an area is much brighter than the background or vice versa. For example, if a bright window is behind a computer screen the contrast between dark and light can be so great that the eyes have to adapt constantly to the change. This constant changing may cause eye fatigue and headaches, as well as decreased ability to view the screen.
How to reduce glare
There are several ways to reduce glare, including:
- controlling natural light from windows. For example, venetian blinds enable employees to adjust the light in their work areas
- reducing the contrast between the foreground and background. For example, using a slightly darker partition with a matte surface reduces the contrast between a computer screen and the surrounding area
- repositioning the workstation to reduce the light falling on the work surface
- reducing the general lighting to suit the task being performed
Image: Preferred placement of the screen to reduce reflections.
Reflections from a work surface
Light reflected from a surface can make it difficult to see what is on the surface. For example, it can be difficult to read a screen when light from artificial lighting or windows reflects onto the screen. To identify reflections, observe a work surface or screen and ask the operator if reflections make it difficult to see their work. Don’t forget, light from windows changes during the day and with the seasons.
How to check for reflections
To check for reflections, hold a sheet of paper above a computer screen or place a mirror over the work surface to reveal the source of reflections visible from the usual working position. Check whether the mirror shows overhead lighting or other sources of light as a problem for that work surface.
Controls for reflections include positioning computer screens side-on to the main light source. A light screen background also reduces difficulties caused by reflections.
If the reflection problem remains, consider moving the workstation to another position. Removing reflections is important when the screen is used for prolonged periods. Use the controls in this guidance rather than screen filters, which can reduce the quality of the screen display and require regular cleaning.
Annoying reflections can also occur in workplaces where there are highly polished floors or glass-covered wall paintings. Employers should address these issues when planning and setting up an office. Even glossy paper documents can reflect light and become unreadable.
Shadows across a work surface
Shadows can reduce the visibility of work, add to glare problems and cause people to use poor posture to see their work. Holding a piece of paper above the viewing surface can indicate whether shadows fall over that work surface. Looking at a person’s posture can show whether shadows affect their work. If a person adopts poor posture to read or see their work, then shadows, glare or reflection may be a problem.
Increasing the number and spread of overhead lights, moving work or redirecting lighting are the main ways to reduce shadows. Removing or relocating barriers which prevent light can reduce shadows. An adjustable task lamp can provide lighting where shadows are a problem, where light from a particular direction is required or when an increase in general lighting is not practicable. However, a task lamp can create pools of light which force eyes to adapt rapidly when looking at the whole work surface. For this reason, removing the barriers to light falling on the work surface is the preferred control measure to remove shadows.
Posture and the visual environment
When employees find it difficult to see what they are working with it is common for them to lean closer to the object or to bring it closer to their eyes. In both cases, this may lead to an awkward posture.
Observe employees who report discomfort at work and watch them perform their usual duties. A well-supported, neutral posture is less likely to result in discomfort.
Where the employee is not well supported by their chair, leans towards their work or adopts a hunched-over posture, there may be a problem caused by poor lighting, poor screen design or position or uncorrected visual problems.
If lighting is contributing to poor posture, the location and all aspects of lighting relative to the task need to be considered. For example:
- is a shadow being cast over the work surface?
- is there enough light for the task being performed?
- are reflections or glare causing the employee to adopt an unsatisfactory posture?
If you suspect visual problems, seek advice from a medical specialist or optometrist.
Eye muscles can become tired when constantly focused on close work. To identify if visual fatigue is an issue in the workplace, ask employees if they get tired eyes or other eye strain symptoms. To control visual fatigue, a change of focus, such as a view out of a window or to a picture along a hallway at a distance from the operator, can exercise other muscles of the eyes while resting the tired muscles.
Take into account the time of day and year when identifying, assessing or controlling lighting issues. Time of day and year will affect the quantity and quality of natural light in a work area and is particularly important when designing lighting systems.
Natural light entering a work area may cause lighting issues. Providing staff with control and adjustment of natural light, for example, venetian or vertical blinds, can address many lighting issues.
Choice of colours can determine the mood of an environment and the level of reflection from a surface. Ceilings are usually white or off-white and should reflect around 80% of the light. Walls should reflect between 50% and 75% of light and be painted in subdued cool colours with a gloss or semi-gloss finish. Floors should be less than 20% reflective and therefore be darker paint and not glossy. The use of colourful posters or non-reflective paintings can relieve monotony and provide visual relief.
Some lights can be a source of annoyance, particularly older fluorescent tubes which may flicker when malfunctioning. Regular maintenance will help control light flicker.
Your legal duties
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, including psychological health, so far as reasonably practicable. This responsibility includes providing and maintaining safe systems of work and an obligation to consult with employees and health and safety representatives (HSRs) on matters that directly affect or are likely to affect their health or safety.
Employees also have duties under the OHS Act to take reasonable care for their own health and safety, the health and safety of people in the workplace and to co-operate with their employer.
Find out more about office work and your legal obligations on the WorkSafe website page, The Risk Management Approach to Health and Safety. A link to the page appears in Related information.
Australian/New Zealand Standard
- AS/NZS 1680.1:2006: Interior and Workplace Lighting, Part 1: General Principles and Recommendations.
National Construction Code
- Part F4 Light and Ventilation (Performance Requirements).
The risk management approach to health and safety
Identifying hazards in the office
Developing a health and safety policy
Physical factors in office work
Office work and mental health
Thermal comfort and air quality in offices
Office layout and design
Office workstation design
Choosing and using office chairs
Desks, workstations and workbenches
Health and safety with keyboards, the mouse and other pointing devices
Telephones and mobile phones
Different types of office work
Using office equipment safely
Storage and moving systems
Working with computers
General office health and safety
Using copiers, printers and similar equipment
Legislation Victoria: Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017External link
Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004External link
Occupational health and safety – your legal duties
Compliance code: Workplace amenities and work environment
Getting help to improve health and safety: A handbook for employers
Australian Building Codes BoardExternal link
Safe Work AustraliaExternal link
Standards AustraliaExternal link