chaz2Lighting may be the poor relation in health and safety terms but failing to address lighting issues can seriously impact a company’s safety record, its reputation and finances. Part of the problem seems to be that many site managers are not switched on to legislation governing visibility levels and are often unaware of the advances in lighting technology which can yield quick paybacks.

The Health & Safety Executive reports that substandard lighting is regularly cited as a contributory factor in workplace accidents. One recent example included a Southampton transport firm given a £42,000 bill after an employee working under inadequate lights was run over by a forklift and left permanently disabled.

Warehouse managers may be unaware that a 60-year old forklift driver needs six times as much light to discern objects clearly as a 20-year old, so aspects like positioning of lamps, glare, and the problem of employees walking from very bright to dark areas and vice versa need careful attention. Issues of shadowing, caused by tall vehicles blocking light, for example, must also be addressed.

In the past, lighting technology itself was not entirely without its inherent problems and may have forced warehouse operators to compromise on their lighting. High Intensity Discharge (HID) lights, such as metal halide or high pressure sodium lamps, for example, emit a spotlight effect rather than an even distribution of light. And the bright intense centre can also dazzle workers, which is especially dangerous for more elderly forklift drivers looking skywards whilst stacking at height. “There are lots of drawbacks with HID lights,” explained David Bone, MD of Somar International, makers of the Eluma lighting system. “They give off a sulphury-yellow glow rather than a clean light, which can make it difficult to decipher colour coding; they burn at  temperatures of around 300 deg C, need continual maintenance, and actually don’t afford good lighting levels.”

Adding sensors to lighting can also improve matters. Lights that ‘sense’ approaching or departing traffic can turn on or dim accordingly, enabling staff to be introduced to different light conditions gradually. Advanced lighting systems also illuminate instantly when switched on, so that they don’t need a few minutes to warm up and reach maximum luminance, which is particularly important following a power cut. But on/off switching in response to occupancy would be impractical with HID lamps as they can take up to 15 minutes to reach full light output. Moreover, the majority of HID lights cannot be dimmed, so there is no potential for control techniques such as daylight linking.

Major advances in fluorescent light sources and fittings now offer a realistic and cost-effective alternative to HID luminaires for low and high bay lighting, says Simon Dixon, of Riegens Lighting. Until recently, there were good reasons for choosing the high light output of HID sources, because of the distance between the fitting and the area to be lit. The introduction of the high frequency fluorescent lamp, however, meant light outputs could now be achieved with considerably lower energy consumption and a higher level of control flexibility. These improvements can usually be achieved by replacing HID fittings with fluorescent fittings on a point-for-point basis so no extra cabling is required.

But just what kind of energy savings can be achieved through switching on to better lighting and is there any financial help for users? The supermarket chain, Netto, explored options for re-lighting its warehouses following a significant rise in electricity tariffs, beginning with its main warehouse in Yorkshire. The proposed, accepted solution involves replacing existing fittings with 4x55w fluorescent fittings, controlled via integral occupancy and daylight sensors to minimise running hours. Projected energy savings alone are £50,000 per annum but there will be further savings through lower maintenance costs and fewer order picking errors owing to poor colour rendering.

Businesses wishing to replace or upgrade existing lighting with energy efficient alternatives can obtain interest-free, unsecured loans of up to £200,000 from the Carbon Trust so there is little excuse for remaining in the dark about lighting.

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