In our first post on ergonomics in the workplace, we reflect on office lighting and how a few small changes can make a world of difference to both body and mind.
Did you know that we take in 85% of information through our sight? Despite this, our vision is often overlooked when we look at ergonomics in our daily office work. Why might this be? Unlike pulling a muscle or a broken bone; we often cannot identify a direct pain or problem with our eyes and so we do not look for a solution.
Poor lighting (which includes light being too bright or creating glare) can cause us to lose our ability to focus through eyestrain, fatigue and headaches. This can result in lower productivity; absenteeism and a recent study by the HSE has shown it also has an adverse effect on our daily moods. If you imagine sitting in an intensely lit room all day, squinting at another bright light; you can start to visualise how it might begin to affect you.
Another condition associated with prolonged exposure to computer light is computer vision syndrome (CVS) or visual display unit (VDU) glare, affecting between 64% and 90% of the UK office population. While this hasn’t been found to have any long term complications, it can cause all the problems previously mentioned as well as dry eyes and temporary myopia (difficulty in seeing distant objects).
Overhead lighting is generally fixed in the early phases of office development at an overly bright 500 lux, often over areas that do not need the light. After all, it’s surely better to have too much light than not enough?
There are many solutions to this problem. Several begin in the office planning phases, reducing the overhead lighting and giving control to the employees by using task lights and local lighting solutions. This can also prevent reflective glare on the computer screen and reduce the effects of CVS. The HSE reports that allowing workers in open plan offices to manage their individual lighting can increase job satisfaction and decrease the experience of stress.
There are several cost savings associated with this method. As lighting accounts for 20% of electricity consumed in the UK and 30% of a company’s costs, reducing the overhead lighting to 300 lux and lowering lights further in task-inappropriate areas (such as storage or server rooms) will greatly affect a company’s bottom line. With the continuing rise in energy costs, this can help save on needless expenditure.
If you don’t have an office refurbishment or relocation on the cards, what can you do in the meantime?
1. Follow the ‘20 20 20 rule’
Every 20 mins, focus the eyes on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. If you are working at a computer for prolonged periods of time, this is a good way of resting the eye muscles. Over-the-counter distant glasses can also help with preventing CVS.
2. Window blinds and computer screen glare filters
As light bounces off reflective surfaces, screens situated near windows are at a high risk from glare. If the window is directly behind your desk, sunlight can shine on the monitor which washes out the light and colour and makes it extremely difficult to see the contents of the screen, leading to eye strain.
3. Rearrange your desk
Researchers have found that placing your monitor slightly below eye level, about 20 to 28 inches away from your face is the optimal place for computer work. At this position, you won’t have to stretch your neck or strain your eyes. By placing a stand next to your computer monitor for any printed materials to limit look up at your screen and back down at your desk while you type.