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Let There Be Light (on Your Site)

Work can be very dangerous if you can’t see what you are doing or where you are going. Each year, some Laborers are killed and many more are injured due to slips, trips, falls and other incidents caused by poor lighting. Examples include not seeing a hole that’s in a shadow, slipping in a stairwell if lighting hasn’t been installed yet or falling into an unprotected or under-illuminated elevator shaft.

Poor illumination is a particular problem during night work. Light towers are generally used at night, but if they are not placed properly, some areas may still be in shadow. Eye strain or headaches can also occur due to insufficient task lighting (e.g., during reading of construction drawings or when using cutting tools). Weather conditions can also sometimes affect visibility and lead to safety concerns.

OSHA requires at least five “foot-candles” of lighting on the jobsite. That is the equivalent of 150-watt bulbs eight feet high and 25 feet apart. For reference, an overcast day provides about 100 foot-candles of sunlight. (A foot-candle was originally the amount of light given off by one candle about a foot away.) Fortunately, we don’t have to light jobsites with candles, and safety professionals can use a light meter to ensure adequate lighting is being provided. While a light meter typically costs between $20-$90, there are now smart phone apps available that also measure illumination. (Most are designed for photography use, but they can provide a general guide.)

Here are some recommendations and best practices to maintain proper illumination on the jobsite:

  • Address adequate lighting during the planning stages of a project
  • Don’t use bulbs of less than 100 watts
  • Protect bulbs from damage with guards or cages (required by OSHA if lights are not completely recessed)
  • Use lights only as specified by the manufacturer (e.g., never run lights along the ground)
  • Use other types of lighting in access/egress areas when string lights are not feasible; ensure emergency exits are lighted per OSHA requirements
  • Make sure wires are not pinched or in contact with steel doors/frames
  • Be aware of task or area-specific lighting requirements. Some tasks require less illumination (e.g., excavation), while some areas require more (e.g., mechanical equipment rooms and first-aid stations

Supervisors should make it a regular practice to walk the jobsite before work begins to look for shadows that need to be illuminated and make sure there is proper lighting for precise task work. If existing lighting can’t be redirected to eliminate shadows, more lighting should be added. When bringing more lighting to a task, be sure not to position lighting directly behind workers.

Night work, especially on highway jobs, requires additional planning. Lighting must be positioned to allow workers to see without producing a glare for oncoming traffic. Lighting should be positioned above workers and aimed downward. Lighting towers should be extended to their full height, but must be positioned to ensure they won’t contact overhead power lines. Balloon lighting, which uses a translucent globe surrounding the bulb, helps diffuse light over a larger area and reduce glare. Workers need to wear ANSI Class 3 reflective clothing at night so they will be visible to oncoming traffic. Recently, new garments with active illumination – essentially built-in LED lights – have become available that make workers much more visible at all times, without the need for light to first reflect off the surface of a vest.

It only takes a little time to make sure workers on your site have enough light to work safely. You will literally see the difference.

Resources from the LHSFNA

The LHSFNA has developed a series of toolbox talks to help LIUNA signatory contractors and other LIUNA affiliates remind workers about on-the-job hazards. To order our Illumination & Lighting Toolbox Talk in English or Spanish, visit the Fund’s website at and click on Publications. You can also contact the Fund’s Occupational Safety & Health Division at 202-628-5465 for additional assistance or more information on the Toolbox Talk program.

[Scott Schneider]

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