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By: Ellie Batchiyska on October 14, 2020

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Construction Lighting: Ins & Outs of Illuminating Your Worksite

Operating Insights

Proper construction lighting is a critical component to worksite safety, not unlike the equipment and gear used by workers. It improves nighttime visibility, making workers less prone to hazards in the evening, and also ensuring the safety of passersby in high-traffic zones.

To ensure lighting is up to code for a construction site, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has outlined a set of specific standards. OSHA standard 29 CFR 1926.56 for construction areas sets minimum requirements, measured in foot-candles, for workers to navigate and avoid hazards.

A foot-candle is a standard level of light emitted from one candle falling on a one-square-foot area one foot away. The term remains a little vague and antiquated even by OSHA’s reckoning. Light, today, is typically measured as a lumen or lux. For the sake of simplicity, one foot-candle can be equated to one lumen per square foot. 

Lighting Standards & Types

In OSHA standard 1926.56(a), the minimum foot-candles for each area of operation are outlined. These include ramps, runways, storage areas, and work sites. Their requirements break down as follows:

  • Five foot-candles – General construction area lighting.
  • Three foot-candles – Concrete placement, excavation and waste areas, access ways, active storage areas, loading platforms, refueling, and field maintenance.
  • Five foot-candles – Indoors: warehouses, corridors, hallways, and exit ways.
  • Five foot-candles – Tunnels, shafts, and general underground work areas. Exceptions apply: for shaft and tunnel heading, ten foot-candles is the requirement for mucking, drilling and scaling. Bureau of Mines-approved cap lights are also acceptable.
  • Ten foot-candles – In general shops or construction plants such as screening plants, batch plants, carpenter shops, mechanical and electrical equipment rooms, rigging lofts, active storerooms, mess halls, and indoor toilets and workrooms.
  • Thirty foot-candles – first aid stations, infirmaries, and offices.

For industrial areas not covered by the OSHA standards, construction managers can refer to the American National Standard A11. 1-2965, R1970. This includes industrial lighting for warehouses, shipyards, loading docks, and other such circumstances.

While there is no one implementation or solution for construction lighting, there are ideal fixtures depending on the kind of work being conducted. 

Light Towers

Light towers are versatile, capable of covering a wide area, and are the most common lighting application in construction sites. They typically consist of an adjustable mast, a generator, and a group of lighting components at the top that can rotate 360 degrees from as high as 30 feet.

In recent developments, solar-powered light towers last as long as 36 hours and work without generators, making them simple to relocate.

High Mast Lights

As opposed to temporary fixtures, these are semi-permanent installations. A light pole—as much as 100 feet tall—supports a luminaire ring, typically composed of four to eight lights covering a large area.

Nite Lights

Nite lights are another recent development approved for construction sites. They consist of metal halide lamps running at 400 watts covered by a diffusing cloth, creating a softer effect while providing sufficient lighting levels.

Balloon Lights

Balloon lights typically apply to workstations or mount onto equipment or vehicles. The lights have air or helium-inflated covers made of light-diffusing material placed on stands.

LED Lighting

LEDs have transformed the lighting industry. They have a longer lifespan, are more efficient, and are better for the environment. Since standard, CFL lighting is cheaply-made, worksite lighting has traditionally served as disposable equipment after job completion. It costs in terms of labor and waste, with only 20 percent on-average salvageable. 

LED lighting, however, is designed as a reusable asset. It saves on energy, material, and labor for each project, leading to decreased charges for temporary lighting per project. Good sets can last five years, running around the clock.

Moving to LED can result in an aggregate savings of thousands of dollars. On top of that, electricity rates continue to rise while onsite lighting runs nonstop, night and day. Logistics play a part as well. LEDs cover more area at an 80 percent lower rate of consumption. 

Again, lower rates for the developer means more work for the contractor. Standard string lighting is extra work to install and difficult to keep and reuse. Furthermore, incandescent and CFL bulbs continually need replacing, resulting in dedicated labor costs and wasted materials.

One LED light, however, covers the same area as a 250-foot stretch of string lights, which reduces installation and maintenance logistics from 25 lights to one. Some designs are plug and play, which means less wiring work. They’re also easy to relocate, so they move with changes in jobsite configuration instead of getting in the way.

With the potential to reduce energy consumption by 60 to 90 percent, LEDs are one of the best options for a cost-effective reduction in CO2 emissions. LED floodlights, specifically, can provide optimal visibility for an otherwise dim construction site. Their illumination spans between 50 to 120 degrees of light, creating a large beam that can cover a vast area.

Thus, the efficacy of worksite lighting comes down not only to the fixture-type but the bulb-type. With tall, ample fixtures boasting LED light bulbs scattered throughout your construction site, it should be fairly easy to meet OSHA illumination standards.

Ellie Batchiyska is a writer for Relight Depot, an industrial and commercial lighting supplier that caters to contractors, construction workers, and warehouses. 

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