KANBrief 3/15

Artificial, biologically effective illumination: first research, then standardize

When natural light is not available at the workplace, simulating it with artificial, biologically effective illumination would appear an obvious alternative. Since validated scientific findings on the effects of this technology, still in its infancy, are however lacking, the occupational safety and health lobby considers it too early for the technology to be used on a broad scale. KAN is also critical of its actual use being standardized, and has issued a position paper in order to raise awareness of the issue. (NOTE: this position paper was last updated in September 2022: KAN position (pdf))

Artificial, biologically effective illumination is a form of light that aims to simulate natural daylight. Efforts are already being made in industry to use it at workplaces, for example in order to create a pleasant and productive working environment. Correspondingly strong calls for design recommendations are therefore heard. FNL 27, a subcommittee of DIN's Lighting Technology Standards Committee, has taken up the issue, launching DIN SPEC (technical report) 67600, Biologically effective illumination – Design guidelines, in 2013. 

FNL 27 is currently seeking to have this DIN SPEC converted into a standard containing recommendations for the use of artificial, biologically effective illumination. At international level, China has already launched a new ISO work item on the subject. 

OSH lobby considers standardization premature 

In the view of the OSH lobby, these moves are premature. As yet, adequately validated scientific findings on the effects of artificial, biologically effective illumination are not available. Recommendations on its use cannot therefore be formulated at present. 

The OSH experts are by no means averse to the potential benefits of this light. However, since every effect has side-effects, possible negative effects must be considered. The wrong light at the wrong time can confuse the human circadian rhythm. In the view of the OSH lobby, potential abuse of biologically effective illumination for "doping" workforces must be ruled out. 

Researchers reported the latest findings in this area at the 8th DIN forum of experts on the effect of light upon human beings, held in June 2015. The studies presented at this event indicated numerous positive and also some potentially negative effects. It was also clear once again how many factors influence the effect of light. For this reason, further studies with a broader base are needed before concrete guidelines can be formulated for the use of this technology. 

KAN position paper 

KAN is observing these developments closely, and has issued a position paper in order to counter premature standardization and application and to draw attention to the lack of adequately validated findings at the present time.  

A further point of criticism by KAN is that artificial, biologically effective illumination impacts upon the safety and health of workers at work. This area is subject in Germany to the German Consensus Statement (GDS) and to the policy document on the role of standardization in the safety and health of workers at work. The planned work items are in conflict with these documents, which specify that the requirements concerning the safety and health of workers at work are to be formulated in state regulations or the body of regulations of the accident insurance institutions.  

In KAN's view, the requirements formulated in DIN SPEC 67600 must also not be implemented without restrictions. The present state of the art for the illumination of workplaces is described in Germany by the binding Technical Rules governing illumination at workplaces, ASR 3.4. As yet however, this regulation contains no provisions concerning artificial, biologically effective illumination, owing to the uncertainty of the situation.  

As a general rule, preference should always be given to natural light over artificial illumination. When artificial, biologically effective light is to be used, its use must be considered in the risk assessment owing to the possible health risks and ethical considerations. The risk assessment must be conducted at the planning stage. 

What are the next steps forward? 

Standardization in the area of artificial, biologically effective illumination cannot be prevented. In KAN's view however, further studies must first be performed to clarify the benefits and risks. The OSH stakeholders have agreed to review the findings on the subject again in a year's time and to amend the KAN position paper accordingly.  

Anna Dammann                    Katharina von Rymon Lipinski
dammann@kan.de           vonrymonlipinski@kan.de