Human needs are an integral part of design work. The lighting industry is currently very fond of the term Human Centric Lighting – but we’ll come to that later. What about aspects of design that people do not "need": unbearable climatic conditions, strong smells, transparent or reflective flooring, glare ... Glare. Now, that is an issue that is taken seriously. Thanks to their reflectors or optical systems some luminaires – when applied correctly – can claim to be glare-free. Glare is not only annoying; it can undermine people’s concentration, be that in office environments or on motorways. Take that a step further. Imagine there are people who are so light-sensitive that being subjected to specific light sources (not only in their glary state) can trigger dizziness, blinding headaches, fainting, vomiting or even a skin rash or anxiety symptoms.
If you are reading this kind of information for the first time, your next reaction is probably to ask what is being done about the situation, and if there is research underway to discover why some human beings react so dramatically to light, or what other health hazards we need to be aware of in order to fulfil our responsibility as lighting designers. The topic is highly complex and tangled in technology, physiology and politics.
Unfortunately, there is no guidance and very little understanding about the entire issue. Health professionals in general are at a loss to explain what it is that triggers patients’ complaints, and in the lighting design world some research studies have been carried out to determine why flicker occurs, but not necessarily on its impact. The general public is badly informed about new lighting technologies.
The majority believe they are helping save the planet by buying and installing energy-saving lamps. The arguments put forward by politicians and backed by the lighting industry basically revolve around everyone "doing their bit for the environment". So-called Human Centric Lighting has earned its name because it can be tuned to align with daylight conditions, or to suit the human using it. As has been said many times, it is not simply a case of specifying or installing HCL-classified products. Such products need to be applied in the correct way in order to achieve truly human-oriented lighting solutions. The incandescent lamp was banned even though many experts in the field were able to prove that given its full spectrum it was/is the safest form of electric light.
A group of committed people, some of whom are light-sensitive persons, have founded a charity aptly named LightAware. They feel very strongly that the topic of light sensitivity needs to be talked about openly on different platforms, involving professionals, political decision-makers and the general public, to generate a greater awareness of the status quo and determine how to move forward to encouraging discussion and investigation into the same with the goal of making the lives of those who suffer from light sensitivity more normal. LightAware claim that being light aware is a three-step process. Firstly, knowing what lighting is in place in any given space; secondly, being open to understanding light-sensitive people’s requirements; and thirdly, working together to create a plan to accommodate sufferers’ access to normal life. This may mean installing different light sources on different circuits within the same space, or educating company staff to ensure better light management, or even switching lights off to enable access for sufferers.
More lighting research needs to be done for sure, and the research outputs communicated beyond the purely academic scenario so that professional lighting designers, whose role and responsibility it is to be informed about the impact of their designs, can advise clients and project owners accordingly – and more people have the chance to become light aware.