Workplaces need to be adequately lit so people can work and move around efficiently and safely.
What is lighting at work?
Lighting at work, whether natural or artificial, should enable people to:
- work without risk to their health and safety
- safely move around the workplace
- safely evacuate the workplace in an emergency.
Lighting systems at workplaces should be designed to:
- make hazards visible
- be appropriate for the work being done and the nature of the workplace
- provide a safe and comfortable visual environment
- be able to accommodate changes in work activities and the workplace.
What are the risks of inadequate lighting?
If there’s insufficient light in the workplace, people are at risk of:
- being unable to quickly and safely exit the building in case of an emergency
- tripping or falling
- visual fatigue and discomfort
- physical pain and injury from sitting or standing in awkward positions to see more clearly.
How to manage the risks
If you’re a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a primary duty of care to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of your workers while they are at work. This includes providing and maintaining adequate lighting systems and making sure that your place of work is properly lit.
As a PCBU, you also have an obligation to consult with workers about reducing the risk from hazards caused by insufficient lighting (section 47 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011).
Find out more about:
- workplace consultation in the Work health and safety consultation, co-operation and co-ordination code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.49 MB)
- how to create safe work and meet your obligations under the law.
At construction sites, the principal contractor for a construction project is responsible for meeting this requirement under section 314 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.
Lighting in general work areas
The Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.57 MB) has a table with recommended illumination levels for different types of tasks and workplaces. The amount of light cast on a surface, or the intensity of light, is measured in lux. To keep your workers safe, general work areas should be lit to 160 lux. More complex or intricate tasks require brighter lighting and higher lux readings.
In an emergency, lighting can help keep workers safe and provide clear directions for a safe exit. Emergency lighting and emergency evacuation signage must have battery backup light fittings so that they still work effectively if there’s a power failure.
Emergency escape lighting units (called luminaires) should be placed within two metres of the approach side of each doorway that requires an exit sign. Place luminaires in such a way that they emphasise potential hazards for people exiting the workplace.
Access and stair lighting
It’s important that access areas and stairs are well lit. The Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.57 MB) specifies that a minimum 40 lux is recommended for interior spaces dedicated to moving around. However, you might need higher lux levels in certain circumstances.
Construction and demolition sites
There are specific standards that set out benchmarks for electrical installations at construction and demolition sites. Inspectors are guided by these standards when they do compliance inspections, but they’ll also do a risk assessment to determine if lighting levels are actually sufficient.
- AS/NZS 1680.2.4:2017 Interior and workplace lighting
- AS/NZS 2293.1: 2018 Emergency lighting and exit signs for buildings – system design, installation and operation
- AS/NZS 2293.3: 2018 Emergency lighting and exit signs for buildings – emergency luminaires and exit signs
- AS/NZS 3012:2019 Electrical installation – construction and demolition sites
Four-step risk management process
PCBUs must make sure workplaces have the minimum recommended levels of lighting. Every workplace, and different areas in a workplace, should be assessed individually to determine if higher lighting levels are needed. Following a four-step risk management process will help your business meet its responsibilities under work health and safety (WHS) laws.
You can also use the practical advice in the Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.57 MB) .
Workers should have enough light to clearly see their path of travel, detect hazards in their path and easily view their work. There are a number of ways you can identify lighting hazards at your place of work.
Inspect your business
Check access and work areas at your workplace for issues that impact on visibility, such as:
- low light
- dark shadows
- changes in lighting, for example, moving from brightness to darkness
- glare or reflections
- dust/particles in the air.
The most important areas to assess are:
- entries, accessways, steps and stairways
- where there are flooring changes
- where spills and contaminants are possible
- areas used during the night/minimal daylight
- areas with known slip, trip or fall hazards.
Talk to your workers
As well as visually inspecting the workplace, you can talk to workers about whether they have enough light to perform their tasks and move around safely. You can do this through informal conversations or team meetings, toolbox talks and surveys. You could also draw a mud map of your workplace and ask workers and supervisors to indicate areas of poor lighting.
Remember that PCBUs have a duty to consult workers under section 47 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
Review available information
Make sure you read through all Acts and Regulations, codes of practice, and Standards relating to lighting at work.
You may find other useful sources of information, including:
- how other workplaces manage lighting risks (if those workplaces are meeting health and safety standards under WHS laws and current industry standards)
- hazard and injury reports.
You need to assess each risk to determine how severe it is and what action is required to control the risk. You can use Appendix D of the Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.57 MB) or this risk assessment template to guide you and record your assessments.
Some types of work and some areas need extra lighting and lighting requirements can change throughout the day. Too much lighting can result in glare. Measures to prevent low or excessive levels of lighting, glare or reflection include:
- providing additional lighting, such as a lamp on a movable arm
- changing the position of existing lights
- changing the location of the workstation
- increasing or decreasing the number of lights, change level of brightness of lights
- changing the type of lighting used, for example from white light to blue light
- changing the diffusers or reflectors on existing lights
- using screens, visors, shields, hoods, curtains, blinds or external louvres to reduce reflections, shadows and glare
- implementing a regular cleaning and maintenance program for lights.
For more information about lighting for computer work, you can refer to visual comfort while working on a computer.
You must also ensure that there’s sufficient lighting for people to exit safely if there’s an emergency.
Lighting must be regularly maintained and reviewed. Lights are most efficient when they’re new. Over time, they age, become covered in dust, or simply stop working. Lux levels can decrease and drop below minimum required standards without anyone noticing.
Codes of practice
- Managing the work environment and facilities code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.57 MB) provides some guidance for suitable lighting.
Standards and compliance
- Work Health and Safety Act 2011
- Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011
- AS/NZS 1680.2.4:2017 Interior and workplace lighting
- AS/NZS 2293.1: 2018 (incorporating amendment 1) Emergency lighting and exit signs for buildings, Part 1: System design, installation and operation
- AS/NZS 2293.3: 2018 (incorporating amendment 1) Emergency lighting and exit signs for buildings, Part 3: Emergency luminaires and exit signs
- AS/NZS 3012:2019 Electrical installation – Construction and demolition sites