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See more with less? Yes!

Allan Brown Posted by Allan Brown

Office environments are usually well lighted, and believe it or not, this poses some problems for the computer operator.  Offices have been around for a long time but the world of computers is relatively new.  Most offices today are equipped with computer workstations, and lots of light from fixtures above.   These overhead lights are left over from the days of paper pushing.   

Today’s office routines pass in front of us electronically.  Less is done on paper and more from our computers.  Viewing a computer in an over-lighted office environment increases the strain on our eyes, necks and shoulders.   The computer is a screen in front of us that contains its own light source.  Adding more ambient light in the room from above or from windows does not make the viewing any easier.  As the ambient light increases the contrast on the computer screen decreases.  The words and images are actually more difficult to see.  A typical response to improve the contrast by the user is to squint or move closer to the screen usually with a forward head posture.  Either of these accommodations will eventually lead to a cumulative trauma disorder (CTD). 

Squinting is accomplished by contracting the muscle around your eyes.  Prolonged contracting can lead to fatigue and achiness around the face and eyes as well as red eye.  Leaning into the computer screen with a forward head posture can increase the forces on the neck and shoulders possibly leading to headaches and neck pain.  In both situations the root cause has not been addressed.  Until the overhead light is reduced the unconscious behaviors of squinting and leaning will continue. 

Reduce the lighting from above.  Look at your screen and have someone turn the overhead lights off and see if this improves the viewing experience.  Shade your eyes from lights from above and see if the screen contrast improves.  Complete darkness is not the solution.  A 3-to-1 relationship has been considered a comfort range for lighting.  In other words, the computer should be 3 times brighter than the room ambient lighting.  Try to balance the lighting to this ratio with shading or filtering the light from above.  Properly balanced light will improve the comfort at your computer work station. 

Of course, paperwork still needs light.  Get a document holder and a small task light to shed light on the paper and anything else below or away from the computer screen.  And, for those of us who hunt and peck at the keyboard, there's an added benefit to having it lighted, too. 

Comments

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Sara Rattigan, Boston, MA

Great post, thanks.

It makes a lot of sense, but I had never connected computer eyestrain to overhead lights before. And very true: I notice it at work, but not at home where the light is dimmer and more natural.

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