When we talk about ergonomics, most people automatically think chair, keyboard and mouse; peripherals of a computer workstation. What a lot of people don’t realise is that lighting also comes under ergonomics.
Ever been sat in an office with really bright lighting and you’re going home with headaches and a back neck? Ever been in an office with really dim lighting and you’re going home with back pain because you’re leaning forward to view your documents because you can’t see very well? Poor lighting can force our posture in different ways and can also affect our eyes.
First things first, you need to get your eyes tested regularly. Every 2 years is a good start and if you notice anything different with your eyes within that period go to the opticians more regularly.
After you pass the milestone age of 40, you'll notice it's more difficult to focus on objects up close because of presbyopia. This is a perfectly normal loss of focusing ability due to hardening of the lens inside your eye.
As you continue to age through your 50s and beyond, presbyopia becomes more advanced. You may notice the need for more frequent changes in glasses or contact lens prescriptions. You may also find that a single prescription is no longer the best solution for all your visual needs. As an example, you may need one pair of glasses for normal tasks and another that emphasises intermediate ranges for working more comfortably at the computer.
Not only this but as you get older we have a need for more light. So, if you’re in your 20s and 30s you will see things much brighter than someone over the age of 40.
How do we take this understanding into the office?
One of the most common issues in offices is that the overhead lighting is too bright, so most people find it uncomfortable. When it comes to lighting our environment, we really want less light above the eyes and more light below the eyes.
The standard for office lighting is around 500 lux which is the amount of light coming from the ceiling. However, the standards are pretty vague and in fact you don’t need to have all of that light coming from one source. You can design the lighting so that the overhead lighting is for example 250-300 lux and the remaining light comes from a task lamp. This way the younger generation are comfortable and the older generation who need additional light can use their task lamp. Not only this but by reducing the overhead lighting, you are also reducing the energy consumption which can only be a good thing.
As with anything there is an initial cost with buying a task lamp but typically within 2 years you will have paid for the lights from the savings in energy consumption.
As well as this sitting by a window may add an additional light source and exacerbate any discomfort with the eyes so if you are particularly sensitive to bright light, steer clear of the window seat or bring the blinds down.
Now there will be times where the overhead lighting cannot be adjusted as easily as we would like so we have to take provisions to keep our eyes healthy. We often forget that our eyes are a muscle and if not used properly tire much like any other muscle would when it’s static. When staring at your computer screen all day, our eyes fatigue which can cause discomfort in the eyes, headaches, and migraines etc. The term to explain all of this is digital eye strain, previously computer vision syndrome.
To help combat this Dr. Alan Hedge from Cornel University suggests every 20 minutes to look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This will help to lubricate the eyes and give them a rest from staring into your screen. If you suffer with dry eyes, you may want to keep some eye drops close by and use them a couple of times a day as poor lighting coupled with air-conditioning in the office and this can cause some discomfort.
Don’t forget to also keep hydrated. If you are dehydrated your eyes are sure to suffer as well so make sure you are drinking at least 1.5-2 litres of water a day and more if it is a particularly hot day.
Lastly setting your monitors up correctly can make a real difference. Your monitor (top line of text) should be set at eye level. So, when you are sat back in your chair comfortably and looking straight ahead you should see the top of the screen. This is true for most people but those who wear varifocals and bifocals and read through the bottom part of the lens should drop their monitors to the lowest position and tilt them much like you would read a book. This will allow you to sit in your chair with your head straight and able to view the detail on your screen without having to lift your head up.
As a rule of thumb, you want your monitors about an arm’s length away as this will encourage you to sit back in your chair using the full support of the backrest.
If you are using one monitor put it directly in front of you so that everything is aligned. If you use 2 monitors think about how you use them; equally or do you have a main screen and a reference screen. If they are equally used angle them inwards to avoid neck rotation. If you use one more than the other, put this one directly in front of you and the other one to the side and angled inwards.
- Get your eyes tested at least every 2 years and make sure to read up on your company’s eyesight policy as many offer a voucher towards computer related glasses. Bonus
- Take regular breaks
- Use eye drops if needed and keep hydrated
- Set your monitors up correctly
- Make sure the lighting is appropriate and if not try to move to an environment where it feels more comfortable
- If you find the environment too dim, a task lamp may help