Proper Lighting in Construction

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Illumination is one of the more obscure and overlooked regulations. This isn’t surprising necessarily, since it isn’t one that is cited often, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important.


For the Construction Industry there are generally 3 specific levels of illumination that you need to remember:

  • 3 Foot-Candles – This applies to most of your “outside” areas. For this regulation, “outside” means anything that is NOT covered. So standing on the first floor of a multi-level structure that isn’t enclosed is still considered “inside”. But if you can look up and see the sky, you are “outside”.
  • 5 Foot-Candles – This applies to most of your “inside” areas. If you can’t see the sky when you look directly up from where you are located then you are “inside”.
  • 10 Foot-Candles – Batch plants, Carpenter Shops, Active store rooms, Toilets, etc….

The key to all of this is that these levels apply to ALL areas where workers are located. So, if they have to walk from the parking lot to their work station, the path has to be illuminated. If they are going to leave the work station and walk to the toilets, that path has to be illuminated. If they are going to be rummaging around looking for tools in a yard or trailer… you guessed it, those locations have to be illuminated.

Translate that please…

If you don’t have a visual in your head on just how bright that is, don’t worry, most people don’t. There are a few tools on the market that can help you.

If you are looking for a decent all around safety meter then you can get one from Amazon:

Check out this one for a “Four in One Environmental Meter” or this one for a “Five in One Environmental Meter“. Both of these instruments will allow you to measure the Temperature, Air Velocity, Relative Humidity and Light. The 5-in-1 adds in a Sound Meter as well.

Note: These just happen to be the ones that I have specifically used so they are the ones I know. I am not affiliated with them in any way other than as a customer. I am sure there are other great devices in the field, so get with your specific vendors and get their recommendations.

If you aren’t interested in carrying around another device or spending $200 to $250 dollars there are some apps that are available through the App Store (Apple). I am going to have to assume that there are similar apps available through Google Play but since I don’t have an android I will have to depend on those of you that do to fill in the gaps.

When it comes to straight up “light meters” keep in mind that most of these are meant for photographers and can get pretty fancy in the data they give you. But you can get one for free that gives you are really good idea of the amount of light in an area without all the other fuss.

The one that I recommend strictly for a quick “Light meter” is:

  • Lux Light Meter Pro – by Elena Polyanskaya
    • There is a paid option of this app (about $4) but the free one has been sufficient for my needs.

Wondering what a “foot-candle” is? This illustration shows it better than I can describe it.

So, 5 foot-candles would be equivalent amount of light that 5 standard candles would project on a 1’x1′ square surface from 1′ away.

The short answer is… it is brighter than you think!

Use the tool but trust your gut! If you EVER enter a space and think to yourself “its a little dim in here” it is nowhere close to 5 foot-candles. If you enter a space and think there is plenty of light because you can clearly see… it might be enough, it might not be enough. Without testing it you won’t actually know.

What is the point of all of this?

If no one tests this except for the few random crazy folks, and OSHA never cites anyone for it, why do we care? The answer is simple.

The NUMBER 1 leading cause of Injury and Death in the Construction Industry is Falls, which includes Slips and Trips and Falls on the Same Level.

If a person cannot clearly see where they are walking they are at risk of injury. Preventing a workers injury far out weighs the avoidance of a citation.

OSHA is Using Drones during Inspections!!!

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Have you heard the latest news? OSHA is now using drones to conduct safety inspections!

Okay, now that we have the sensationalizing out of the way, let’s talk about what this really means. Or more importantly, what it doesn’t mean. Well, maybe it is a little of both.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that there are certain protocols that have been set in place on how an OSHA Inspection occurs.

Click here for the factsheet covering Inspections in more detail. But the short version is this:

  • An OSHA Compliance Officer will arrive, present his/her credentials, and indicate why they are there.
  • The Opening Conference will be conducted to discuss the reasons for the inspection, and to gather the employer representatives that need to be present.
  • The Walk-around, the part of the inspection that feels like an inspection, is the conducted. During the Walk-around the OSHA Compliance Officer will talk to a reasonable representation of the workers (in private) to gather information. The Compliance Officer will also take pictures, measurements, and notes based on their findings.
  • The Closing Conference is the final step of the inspection. During the Closing Conference the Compliance Officer will discuss the findings and generally provide some feedback on what will likely be presented and recommended for a citation.

After the Inspection is completed the Compliance Officer will present the information to the Area Director, with the recommendations for citations and penalties, and the Area Director will make the final determination on what actions to take (or not take). If you will be getting a citation it will be sent to you in some official manner within 180 days (6 months) of the inspection.

Key Points

Some of the key points that you need to understand, because they become very important once we start discussing the drone part of this article.

Number one! OSHA is permitted to gather information (i.e. take pictures, videos, notes, etc.) from any place that they are legally permitted to be. So, if you see them staked out across the street in a parking lot with binoculars, a video camera, or even a drone…well, they have a right to be there and they have a right to collect that evidence in that manner.

Number two! The inspection does not begin until they have conducted the Opening Conference with the appropriate people. The worker in the trenches is NOT the appropriate person. They must contact a person in some sort of supervisory capacity. That person is generally the General Contractor’s Superintendent. So, if you are a Subcontractor reading this, you will be notified as appropriate.

What about the drones?

Can OSHA fly above your project with a drone and collect evidence without stopping in and saying hello? Ummmm, maybe? Legally, probably so, because the airspace isn’t technically yours in most cases. There are certain situations (airports, military bases, … some sort of secret installation) where it may be protected, but most places aren’t. However, there are other restrictions that could come into play if it came right down to it, but that is WAY beyond my scope of knowledge.

Am I concerned about the drones?

Nope! Not at all! And here is why.

The main reason is Logic. Not every Compliance Officer has a drone. They are expensive to own. They require specific licensing and training to operate in an official capacity. And at this point I honestly just think the waters are too murky for the average Compliance Officer to base their case purely on the findings of a drone. OSHA is under-staffed, and under-funded. They are not going to resort to some high-tech gadget for the common citation. It is just too risky and it takes too much time and money to make sense.

In my long career, the number of inspections that have occurred based on a drive-by number exactly 5. And of those, only 1 actually had pictures taken prior to entering the project. Of the others, three resulted in a either a fax (remember those?) or a phone call asking for my email that said “Hey, we saw such and such, please respond to this officially, letting me know it was investigated and taken care of.” The other one resulted in an immediate pull-in to gather the project team to go walk the site.

But they already use them!

Yep, they do. And in most of the cases it has been to investigate an incident so they can gather information from areas that are otherwise unsafe to enter.

And, I will not be surprised to see them become more of a common tool during the course of a normal inspection. There are some pretty nifty drones out there with cameras and speakers and such. So, where I can see them being used, intelligently, would be to fly them up to talk to the tower crane operator or to inspect a crane, rather than having the operator climb down, or the inspector climb up. Another time might be to just gather an overall scope of a project… is work being performed on the roof? If not, why bother to go up there.

In Conclusion

Drones are out there. They are amazing tools that can be used for inspections, even by OSHA. They are worth looking into to see if they can help with your own processes. And it will definitely be interesting to see where OSHA takes their stance on the use of drones in the coming months.

But, in my opinion, you don’t have to worry about “big-brother in the sky” looking at you or your project. Not yet, anyway.

Beside, if you are managing your project and conducting your activities safely, then you have nothing to be concerned with anyway.