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Being clear about your vision

With winter upon us, bringing low lighting in and out of the office environment, we thought we would discuss and highlight the importance of lighting on your eyesight.

We all tend to take our eyesight for granted, until something happens which radically affects it. I’ve seen that occasionally with people who experience a worrying array of spots floating around in their vision, blurry vision and then eyes which just don’t want to focus when they leave work. It’s the sort of thing which makes us all worried that our eyesight is seriously about to disappear but in fact, it’s often due to poor or excessive lighting combined with long periods of staring at a computer screen.

What is more worrying these days, is that many of us spend longer and longer looking at a computer screen. The cheering news is that it is actually controllable, so long as you are aware of what to do.

Research has shown that the amount of light you have on your screen, whilst an important factor, is not as important as the amount of time you look at your screen.

As our sight fails, many people opt for bifocal or progressive glasses because they can be used in any situation during the day. Unfortunately the advent of larger computer screens has meant that the amount of neck use required to get the correct focussing on this large screen has increased significantly, creating a different set of issues! (If you can, stick to occupational glasses if you use a large screen.)

So an easy tip to manage this is the 20:20:20 rule. Every 20 minutes look 20 metres away for 20 seconds. This brief glimpse away is all it takes to allow your eyes to relax and focus at a different length from that required for reading the computer.

This simple technique increases blinking which in turn allows the eye muscles to have a little micro-pause, get hydrated, feel relaxed and refreshed. Looking at something in the distance stretches the muscles to work differently as well. I have found that people working in offices who sit next to windows, particularly when they were in the central city with lots of activity on the pavements outside, rarely experienced eye issues because they would often glance outside giving this natural break for the eyes. If you don’t have that view outside, create something to look at inside your office. Here is a picture that I took during a holiday in the Marlborough Sounds - it has depth to it creating an illusion of looking into the distance, plus it has beautiful blues and green hues which are calming and relaxing colours for our eyes to look at.

The second factor which helps with reducing eye strain is ensuring that the light levels are appropriate for the work you are doing. Computer users need enough light going onto the screen, and not a large contrast between the screen and areas beyond the screen. When this high contrast happens, your pupils narrow down to cut out the excess light, resulting in strained eyes with the constant re-focussing. So, offices which have floor to ceiling windows, (a modern trend in office buildings, especially noticeable here in Christchurch, where so many new offices are being built), create a real challenge for people who are working near the windows – how to shut out the excess light. If there is a blind behind the screen, make use of it to reduce this contrast and make it easier on your eyes.

The use of LED lights has created an interesting dilemma. Whilst “eco friendly”, the example seen recently of LED down lights in a new office, was a frustrating one for the office users. The downlights created an intense light which bounced off the white desks with a very high, (4 times the recommended light level), light reading on the computer screens. These could be angled to one side but as they were down lights, the result was not enough light in some work areas.

On talking to an electrician he told me that you can buy different colours of LED lighting so it was better to go for a softer colour, not white – similar to the fluorescent lights which can be daylight or whiter colour. As it happens, individual downlights are not recommended for computer use as it is hard to position the screen directly beneath the light to get enough light on the screen. You can, however, get a number of LED lights in a cluster which will provide a better quantity of light.

So, the moral of the story is, don’t assume that the lighting designer or electrician knows everything about getting the right lighting for your needs when a new work space is being designed. They will often go with the latest trends of what looks good and the amount needed or a certain floor space but there is so much more to lighting than meets the eye. Our increased technology use has changed the game with lighting, so it is now crucial to ensure we get the lighting right to preserve our eyesight.

If you would like to discuss your office lighting for computer based workers, have your light tested or have education provided to staff on how to care for their eyes whilst using computers; contact us via

Randa Abbasi is a New Zealand trained Occupational Therapist and owner / operator of WorkSpace IQ. Randa has over 25 years experience in leading and managing teams in the health sector and specializes in ergonomics, wellbeing, personal and professional development and clinical supervision.

Randa can be reached at WorkSpace IQ | Home

Mobile: 021 1971 060

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