Seeing the Light

Dr. Jeffrey Anshel explains how visual ergonomics in the workplace can impact productivity and comfort.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, I recently moved to a new office. The physical ergonomics of my work space – the placement of my computer, telephone, storage files and reference materials; the type and quality of overhead lighting; noise levels, etc. – are the same as the old office. One thing has changed: the quality of the outside light.

Normally, I love sunshine. Whether it’s because I was born under the astrological sign of Leo, which is ruled by the sun, or because I live in Cleveland where we generally don’t see enough sun, I don’t know. I do know I love the sun, which makes this next admission painful: My productivity has suffered as a result of an overdose of sunshine from my East-facing window.

I’ve lost countless minutes every day – opening blinds, closing blinds, fiddling with the amount of light coming in through the blinds, moving my computer, turning the overhead lights on and off, experimenting with task lighting, adjusting the brightness and contrast of my computer screen ... the list is endless.

Which is why when I attended Safety 2007, the annual conference of the American Society of Safety Engineers, one session in particular caught my [bloodshot] eye: a discussion of visual ergonomics in the workplace given by Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, president of Corporate Vision Consulting in Encinitas, Calif.

Unable to attend the session, I made a follow-up call to Anshel to ask him how lighting and visual function can interact in the workplace environment to reduce employee stress and increase production.

“The main thing is that we are visual beings,” says Anshel. “We are visually driven ... everything follows our eyes.”

Most ergonomic problems are visually based, he adds. Employees who can’t see what they are working on often twist their bodies or turn their heads to achieve a better field of vision. This is more true of employees who use computer screens. “Employees dealing with computer screen glare will move their bodies and tilt their heads rather than deal with the glare,” says Anshel, who reports he once solved a patient’s vision problems by suggesting she get a footstool.

He explains most people place their computer monitors too high. To have the best visual ergonomics, he suggests staring straight ahead with your back straight. You should be able to look over the top of your computer monitor.

“She couldn’t lower her monitor anymore, so I suggested she raise her chair and get a footstool. It worked,” he remembers.

Three main factors impact employee vision at work, according to Anshel: the work environment itself (lighting, placement of equipment, etc.), work habits (reading data off a computer screen, conducting close visual inspections, working with tiny parts, etc.) and the eyesight of employees (near-sighted, far-sighted, over 40).

“Workplaces, in general, are designed with standard florescent lighting that is spaced to illuminate the entire room,” says Anshel. “When the facilities department comes in to design work stations, they’re not paying attention to lighting. When IT comes in to set up computers, they’re not paying attention to lighting. When employees are working, they’re not paying attention to lighting.”

Work tasks in general, says Anshel, are about “near and intermediate viewing. Twenty/twenty eyesight and healthy eyes are important, but how employees’ eyes are functioning – how they’re seeing up close – also is important.”

Anshel makes a number of suggestions to improve visual ergonomics at work:

  1. Use blinds or drapes on windows in order to eliminate bright light. They should be adjusted during the day to allow light into the room without being able to see the bright light directly. “Natural light is not a dependable light source,” says Anshel. “It changes all the time.”
  2. If task lighting is used, it should be directed so that it illuminates the task field or paperwork, but does not bounce up into the eyes or onto a computer screen.
  3. Indirect lighting systems often provide the best visual environment.
  4. Wear a visor or cap to shield eyes from bright overhead lights.
  5. Reorient workstations so that bright lights are not in the field of view.
  6. Avoid white reflective surfaces. Desktops and tabletops should have a matte, medium-reflective surface.
  7. Ceilings should be painted white and walls should be medium light.
  8. Turn down lights around computers – too much room illumination makes the room too bright in comparison to the computer – and turn off fluorescent light fixtures that are in an employee’s field of view and are bothersome. (But be considerate of the effects on other employees.)

Your eyes will thank you.

TAGS: Archive Health
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