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12/19/12 The Effect of Lighting on Workplace Productivity

Article-December 2012 By Larson

Explosion Proof Low Profile LED Light Fixture

Larson Electronics Explosion Proof Low Profile LED Light Fixture

Because of the recent economic downturn and heavy emphasis on energy efficiency, companies have begun revisiting potential sources of improved revenues that previously were considered areas of poor or less than dependable returns. In reality, some of these methods have always been good investments, however, the initial outlays provided something of a stumbling block as many business found it difficult to adequately assess the rate and scope of the returns such outlays could provide. Lighting is just such an example of an area where the potential exists for positive returns, but determining the actual value proved difficult.

In surveys of operators and managers across the US, it was found that most would consider a lighting upgrade if the potential for positive returns could be demonstrated. Similar studies have shown that 68% or more of workers consider lighting in their workplace to be of poor or below average quality. When we consider that employee perception of the workplace can directly affect their performance levels, this alone suggests that improved lighting could have a direct effect on productivity. However, as noted above, quantifying the benefits has been problematic at best.

Workplace productivity is typically defined in simple terms like “widgets produced per hour”, or, “input effort versus output product totals”. If you increase the amount of widgets produced, or the overall rate of production without increasing input effort or cost, you have essentially increased productivity and thus profit. Doing this by improving worker perception of the workplace is difficult, in large part because of the wide variances in workplace conditions, the types of work being performed, and last but certainly not least, the worker perception is subjective and in large part dependant upon the workers personal preferences.  Despite this, improved lighting can improve workplace productivity because there are other factors less dependant on psychological factors and more influential on physiological traits.

Ignoring for the moment worker perception, it is important to consider the effect lighting has on worker physiology. Our moods, alertness, energy levels, and overall feelings of wellness are in large part governed by our biological clocks and what is know as the Circadian Rhythm. The Circadian Rhythm is made up of the psychological and physiological changes we experience over a period of 24 hours. It is heavily influenced by light periods and their duration. Our bodies become accustomed to periods of light and dark and releases hormone levels accordingly, in effect telling us when it is time to rest and time to become active. When this rhythm is interrupted or altered, we experience fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability, and instability on our alertness.

Research has shown that not only can the periods of light and dark and their duration affect our biological clocks, but the quality of light may do so as well. It has recently been discovered that our eyes are adapted to receive more light in the blue end of the spectrum than previously thought. This is thought to explain in part why tests show light with a more natural spectrum, that is, light more closely resembling natural daylight, to have a positive effect on mood and alertness. It also explains why light with poor color quality and a narrow spectrum tends to produce negative responses from the human body. Light with poor spectral qualities also tends to cause migraines, headaches, and feelings of lethargy over prolonged periods of exposure, further suggesting just how significant a role lighting plays in our overall health and feelings of well being.

Consider some of these examples demonstrating the effects of lighting on workers and overall productivity:

:After a lighting upgrade to one of their engineering and development facilities, Lockheed reported a $500,000 per year savings in energy costs. Additionally, they also reported a 15% increase in productivity and a 15% decrease in worker absenteeism.

:A West Bend Mutual Insurance facility reported a 16% improvement in productivity after undergoing a comprehensive lighting upgrade.

:The U.S. post office in Reno, Nevada after a lighting renovation and upgrade realized energy savings of about $50,000 per year, while mail sorters at the facility became the most productive sorters in the western half of the country and error rates for machine sorters became the lowest. This productivity increase was expected to boost revenue by approximately $500,000 per year.

:DNATA Warehouse Gate 5 in Dubai realized a 39.38% savings in energy use after an upgrade from their old metal halide warehouse lighting systems.
Invesco Field Stadium in Denver received an upgrade to LED “Wall Washer” lights in February 2011, leading to a 72% reduction in energy consumption and more than $5,000 in annual cost savings.

So what can operators and managers expect from a lighting upgrade in their own workplace? Unfortunately, due to worker subjectivity, the wide differences in workplace environments, and the types of work being performed, there is no hard and fast set of specific results that can be referenced. However, considering that studies suggest most industrial and commercial lighting systems are outdated an in need of improvement, it’s a safe bet that any lighting upgrade, if performed intelligently, will return rewards in the form of reduced energy costs and improved workplace productivity.

When considering a lighting upgrade, it is often best to bring in a lighting consultant who can assess your current systems and make suggestions for improvement. It is not enough to just upgrade exisiting fixtures, and a big part of improving lighting is not only installing more efficient fixtures, but utilizing the light they produce more efficiently. Other things to consider are utilizing fixtures and lamps with broader color spectrums, higher color rendering indexes, and getting more light onto the task area. Look for problems with glare and inefficient distribution, and if possible consider LED lighting and high efficiency fluorescent systems when possible in order to reap the greatest improvements in system efficiency.

Many experts agree that it is entirely reasonable to expect improved productivity and reduced operated costs after installing a lighting upgrade. Dr. Dr Ian Rowbottom, author of “Improving Productivity with Light Controls” states that -“Increases in productivity can easily pay for a total light control system in seven months or less”. Real world reports provide similar results with returns being noted within 6 months to a year as the average. With current lighting technologies such as the incandescent bulb, HID, and fluorescent now being required to meet even higher efficiency standards, it makes sense for operators to look at the bigger picture and consider workplace productivity as well when it comes time for servicing their lighting systems.

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