Last reviewed 22 June 2018

A common focus for organisations is providing enough natural light into working spaces. High-performance glass is well developed, but what about when you need to block or regulate the light? Dave Howell considers how blinds can be used effectively.

Managers understand that supporting health and wellbeing within the working spaces they create is vital to the long-term effects of their businesses or organisations. Controlling the levels of natural light entering any given space is also critical.

Research from Lamp Shop Online concluded that more than a third of workers are adversely affected by low levels of natural light entering their office spaces. The converse was also found to be true with high levels of light also distracting, with one in seven respondents citing headaches as a symptom of uncontrollable light.

The contribution that natural light makes to health and wellbeing has been clearly documented. A study from interior landscaping and scenting firm Ambius found that UK office workers spend just 15 minutes outside excluding their commute to their places of work each day. Ensuring some form of natural light is entering their workspaces is therefore crucial to control.

Indeed, new research from VELUX concluded: “Daylight is important for health, physiologically as well as psychologically. Recent studies have shown the significant effects that daylight can have on mood — and the survey suggests that most people are also aware of this fact. When asked about the effect of daylight on productivity, 63% of the YouGov respondents said they think that daylight has a significant effect on our productivity — so awareness is high on this topic.”

Commenting on the findings, Steven Lockley, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School Neuroscientist, Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, Brigham and Women’s Hospital said: “Light is an acute stimulant which directly alerts the brain. If you’re exposed to brighter and bluer light in the daytime, then you get a better stimulant effect. You’ll be more alert and have better cognitive function, potentially be more productive at work and so on. If we’re thinking of offices, schools, hospitals, etc, it’s the alerting effects of light in the daytime which we want to take advantage of.”

Blind control

Having fine control over the amount of natural light entering a working space has meant turning to physical barriers. One of the most popular is blinds, as they are low-cost and effective. However, blinds need to be deployed with the space they will influence and the workforce within the environment they control to the front of mind, as lighting conditions can be interpreted and influence a working in space in different ways.

Mark Booth, Managing Director, Gira UK Ltd told Croner-i: “Whether reactive or sensitive operation, remote access, programming and control or simply offering improved utility and convenience, smart lighting can control brightness of the orientation light, devise lighting scenes tailored to the individual, as well as offer intelligent range detection through doors and walls including materials such as glass, stone, plasterboard and wood.”

Lighting can now be highly controlled. The use of window coverings such as blinds needs to be a component of these lighting controls. Organisations may focus on how they control artificial light in a workspace, but this can be easily undone if too little or too much natural light enters the space and can’t be adequately controlled. Reducing glare is vital where information technologies are in use, as glare can have a massive impact on productivity when using any screen-based device.

Managers should be aware of how natural light control, with blinds and other window coverings, forms part of their responsibilities under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, together with an Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) that gives additional guidance. A risk assessment should have lighting conditions and the control of natural light as a core component of regularly carried out reviews.

Choosing the right kind of blinds is also vital to get right, as head of design, Kevin McIntosh, Chameleon Business Interiors, explained: “Generally for offices we would suggest employing roller blinds — which can come in various fabric guises from a light mesh [minimum light cut-out, more to reduce glare], to “black-out” liners that offer maximum light cut-out. I would also suggest, with blinds not being cheap to replace, using a colour and finish that is simple and neutral, to reduce problems with interior design changes further down the line. Blinds are great for being able to provide a user-serviceable way to control light-levels and glare.”

Lighting the way

Organisations can use traditional blinds, which are now available to control light and heat exchange, into the working spaces they look after. More common today is a multifaceted approach that uses blinds — which can have fine control — with other forms of window coverings that can be used in conjunction with physical barriers.

Nigel Tresise, Director and Co-founder of align, interior and architectural design practice commented: “There is now a raft of products around with nano-technology coatings on the outside to control the impact of natural light and also mitigate solar gain.

“For a long period of time, you used to see offices with tinted grey or blue windows to achieve this, but technology has moved on and coatings are now available without the same impact on light transmission or leading to the same level of colour distortion. Perforated blind fabrics achieve the same result, but colour choice is often counter-intuitive. A dark grey fabric allows more external connection than a light grey one, for example.”

The ubiquitous vertical blind has been a familiar component of office spaces for decades. Technology has, of course, delivered many other ways to control the quantities of light entering a space, and the levels of solar gain, which can have a huge impact on a workforce, but the humble blind continues to be an effective practical solution.

Your checklist

Using blinds to control light entering a space will mean carefully considering the following.

  • How the space is used: different kinds of work require particular lighting conditions. Assess the work being carried out before specifying whether blinds are appropriate

  • Other environmental conditions: controlling levels of natural light may be the priority, but managers need to also consider issues such as solar gain, as this can have an impact on working efficiency.

  • Controlling workspace lighting: blinds and other window coverings can form part of the overall building control .systems in use.

  • Ensuring full compliance: assessing light levels should be a component of health and safety assessments. These should be completed regularly to reveal any areas where action needs to be taken.