OSHA Lighting Requirements: The Complete Guide

There are many good reasons for the existence of the OSHA lighting requirements for workplaces across the US. The International Labor Organization, an agency of the UN, reports that too little light at work can cause eye strain, fatigue, headaches, stress and accidents, while too much lighting can be responsible for stress and glare-induced headaches.  

A report by Park, Aziz and Loftness from the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania concluded that “lighting plays an important role in the quality of the indoor environment,” citing studies that found links between lighting and job satisfaction, as well as between illumination and workers’ health.
In addition, the Brotherhood of Teamsters highlights the safety hazards of low lighting levels. It suggests this can cause an “increased probability of errors” and an “increased probability of accidents by misjudging the position, shape or speed of an object”.

What Is a Foot Candle in the OSHA Standards? 

When laying out its minimum requirements for workplace lighting, OSHA uses the measurement of foot candles. This helps you understand the minimum light intensity of illuminance demanded of a workplace. Different industries are obliged to satisfy different requirements.

The definition of one foot candle is one lumen per square foot. This equates to light emitted when one lumen is shone on and evenly distributed across an area of one square foot. 

What Are Lumen and Lux? 

  • A lumen is a measurement of the total amount of visible light beamed from a light source or beam, over a particular unit of time. 
  • A lux measures illuminance in a similar manner to foot candles, but it is the preferred metric measurement outside of the US. One lux is one lumen per square metre, which makes it around a tenth of a foot candle. 

OSHA’s General Lighting Requirements

Here are all the details you need to know about OSHA’s general lighting requirements for all industries, as well as the types of lighting and the minimum illuminance required for your sector. 

Lighting Standards and Measurements

In its lighting standards, OSHA insists that you should ensure you distribute light evenly across each workspace. This should be light enough to see clearly and should avoid areas of different illuminance to help avoid straining workers’ eyes. 

The required levels for each different area when at least one employees is working are:

Minimum Brightness
Offices, first aid stations and infirmaries
General construction plants and shops, including active storerooms, indoor bathrooms and mess rooms
Indoor construction areas, warehouses, corridors, hallways and exit ways
Underground work areas, such as tunnels and shafts
Concrete placement areas, waste areas, loading platforms, active storage areas, field maintenance areas, refueling areas and excavation and waste areas

Light covers

There are requirements for light covers, which you should protect using plates. You should also install guards as barriers to stop the covers from shattering, especially if the light is located less than seven feet above the workspace. They should be firmly mounted, contain no exposed parts and have no openings larger than that which a finger can reach through.  


When it comes to the location of lighting outlets and switches, OSHA standard 1926.403 (j) (3)(ii) covers the safety of employees responsible for maintaining lighting equipment. Anyone changing the light or repairing it should not be at risk of moving machinery or live parts. This dictates where you can safely place the outlets. There is a similar set of recommendations for placing switches, which ensure that the worker tasked with turning the light on is not exposed to hazards. 


In OSHA standard 1910 Subpart S, there is a set of requirements for installing lighting. These include set procedures, locations, wire sizes and more. There are also standards for temporary lighting, covering lights used for repairing and maintaining buildings, as well as those used for celebratory displays. This includes Christmas and other holidays and festivals. 

Types of Workplace Lighting

There are three main types of workplace lighting:

  • General Lighting

This is the lighting that is constant across a workspace. Light fittings should be placed at even intervals, with the same brightness of bulb installed in each one. Wherever the worker goes in this space, the lighting is the same and that means their eyes do not have to keep readjusting. This lighting must meet the minimum illumination in the table above, depending on the type of workspace in question. 

  • Task Lighting

If you perform a task that requires you to concentrate on small details, or which needs illuminating in a focused manner, then you require task lighting. This could be a small desk lamp, a spotlight or other additional illumination. An example of task lighting in use, as given by SAIF, the Oregon workers’ comp company, would be in an office. There is the general lighting that OSHA requires for an office setting, which takes into account the fact that most workers will use computers. But, for additional tasks like reading and note taking, you may need additional task lighting to avoid eye strain. 

  • Emergency Lighting

Emergency lighting is usually powered by a reserve source that only comes into play when the main power goes down. Whatever the reason for the power outage, the emergency lights illuminate the escape routes and emergency exits to allow staff to safely leave the building. 

The Benefits of Complying With OSHA Standards

You can reduce accidents and injuries by complying with OSHA standards. If the workplace is lit accordingly, there is less chance of someone misjudging a distance or not seeing an obstruction and injuring themselves. In addition, they do not have to strain their eyes to continue their work. This can help cut sick days, in turn improving your safety metrics — including DART, TRIR and LTIR. Proper lighting also gives workers, prospective staff and insurers more confidence in your business. 

Employee comfort is another key benefit. Comfortable workers who don’t have to strain their eyes feel better about their environment and their job. When they feel good about their job, they are more productive and there is reduced employee churn. The morale and atmosphere improves onsite.   

The Risks of Non-Compliance

Not only do you risk an unhappy workforce and the safety and health of your employees by not complying with OSHA’s lighting standards, but you could face a fine, too. The current maximum OSHA violation fines are:

  • Serious Violation: $13,494
  • Failure to Abate Prior Violation: $13,494 per day beyond the abatement date
  • Willful or Repeated Violation: $134,937 and potential criminal proceedings.

You might also be the subject of legal action, workers’ comp claims and other punitive measures. 

What Should You Know About Insufficient Light?

Insufficient light in a working environment is a safety hazard, a health hazard and can negatively affect the quality of work. 

When a worker cannot correctly judge the position, shape or speed of an object, they cannot easily avoid it. This can lead to accidents, injuries and, in the most extreme circumstances, fatalities. Eye strain, discomfort and headaches are all linked to poor lighting, and can contribute a reduction in worker hours. This can negatively affect productivity and cause a lack of precision when carrying out tasks. 

The Most Common Lighting Problems

There are a number of different types of lighting problems that commonly occur in the workplace:

  • Insufficient light – when there is not enough light to safely carry out tasks.
  • Improper contrast – if the light surrounding the workstation is brighter than the light on the workstation, this makes it difficult to work. It should be the other way round.
  • Glare – this is when bright light affects how you see the object you want to concentrate on. It could be from a poorly positioned light fitting, a bulb that is too bright, sunlight or reflections from monitors, screens or shiny surfaces.
  • Poor distribution of light – if there are some gloomy patches, it can make it difficult for workers to see things when they step from one area to another and their eyes need to readjust. 
  • Flicker – when the light changes rapidly. This can be distracting and can cause headaches. 


Are fluorescent lights making you tired?

The mitochondria that power your cells struggle with artificial light such as fluorescent lights. This type of lighting amplifies the blue light and eradicates many of the other elements of natural sunlight. Because we are yet to become attuned to this artificial light from a genetic perspective, it can cause fatigue. 

How much light is best?

Workplace lighting should meet the minimum standards suggested by OSHA. You should be careful not to make the general lighting too powerful, as you want to avoid glare. The solution is to keep the general lighting at a reasonable level and provide task lighting if needed. 

How do you correct glare problems?

Swapping a high intensity light for several lower intensity sources can help eliminate glare. Another solution is to provide adjustable task lighting, meaning the general lighting doesn’t need to be too intense and the worker can create their optimum environment. Also, it’s a good idea to look at the positioning of the fixture to cut down reflection from shiny surfaces. 

How do you check and correct for poor contrast?

While walking around the site, look for differences in lighting intensity. Are there objects that are difficult to distinguish, or is it difficult to read the text on a monitor? If so, these areas may have poor contrast. In this case, you should attempt to cut down on reflected glare by swapping shiny surfaces for dull or matte-finished products. Adjust monitor controls to increase contrast. 


There are so many benefits to implementing the OSHA lighting requirements that it makes a lot of sense to follow them to the letter. Not only does it increase the safety levels in your business, but it can make for a happier and more productive workplace. Fewer sick days and increased morale can only be positive outcomes for your company. Finally, the fact that there are some potentially heavy fines for non-compliance should also encourage you to meet the standards, as well. 

References and Further Reading