Office Lighting

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about lighting:

I have requested that staff turn on the lights in the hallway when they arrive; one as a courtesy to fellow employees, and two as a safety issue. It seems like common sense to me, dark hallway equals potential for accident. Someone questioned the safety aspect. Is there any legality to it? I tried to search OSHA and have not found anything other than for construction sites.

Signed, In the Dark

Dear In the Dark:

There are no legal issues related to hallway lighting, especially not in the circumstances you mention. There could be a liability issue if someone tripped over a package, slipped on a wet floor or bumped against something and was hurt, because they could not see. It would have to be quite dark for that to happen and most interior hallways don’t have those situations. Based on your description, it sounds as though employees could enter work, go to their workplaces and not turn on the hallway lights until one of them needs to use the hallway, at which point that person would be the one to turn on the light. You have asked that first- arriving employees turn those lights on at the beginning of the work day so the hallways are already lighted when the first staff member needs to walk down the hallway.

Unless you are a brand new manager in that workplace, I would assume you have suggested it before but it has not always been done. You have now made it more formal and you said you wanted it done as a courtesy and also for safety. But, one or more people have questioned if it really is all that unsafe, since the first person using the hallway could turn on the lights as well as the first staff members in the morning could turn them on. I may be going far past your question in this next part, so if you wish you can just stop at this point; there are no statistics that I’m aware of about the safety of unlit hallways and no laws about it. I agree with you that it seems reasonable and practical. Going further than that basic question and answer: I would imagine this situation involves more than lights. Unless there was a bit of tension, why would anyone even think to question the validity of using safety as an issue, when you have requested a very basic activity for those arriving first in the workday? If it isn’t a basic and reasonable activity, give the work areas of those who arrive first, why is it important to you to have it done? And, why would a manager have to explain it, to the point of researching it?

Perhaps you were only asked a casual question and I am making more of it than you intended. But, since I hear and see this kind of thing quite often in workplace conflicts, I tend to be sensitized about it. Let’s look at the safety aspect:

If the hallways are accessible by the public they should certainly be well lighted all the time to avoid crime, inappropriate behavior and liability concerns. If they are not accessible by the public, I would doubt that any employee would have to walk down the hallway in pitch dark, since there is nearly always a light switch at the entrance to a hallway. But, if there is no switch at every entrance, consider putting several in the hallway, so that no one will enter without having a light switch handy. Or, consider a plug-in night-light to give partial illumination. Or, get a motion-activated light or put a timer on the current light. If the issue is that the workplace should look like a welcoming, active, well-lit place from the time work starts, that is valid and safety doesn’t have to be part of it, except as a peripheral issue. Hallways that are rarely used could be kept unlighted, if there are any of those. But, the hallway to the copier, stationery area and bathrooms should be lighted. Maybe the copier could be turned on at the same time. That can simply be established as a begin-the-day activity while others have close-up activities. If the point is that you and some others arrive later than the first arrivals and you want to have your area lighted when you arrive, consider why staff members object to doing it. Do they like to have it be obvious that you aren’t there yet? Do they just not like to support your requests? Do they push back on other things as well?

One of the best ways to handle a situation like this is to do it while moving forward. What I mean by that is to not stop your forward motion at work (the real work that needs to be done) to allow this to have any significance. It is a management decision that is not harmful to anyone and is reasonable. So, consider a brief statement like this: “Greg and Lisa, you had asked about the safety reasons for turning on the lights, so I checked on that. I couldn’t find any legalities about it, but every source mentioned potential liability if someone were to trip or whatever, in a dimly lit hallway.

The sites I checked thought it was reasonable and appropriate for hallways to be lighted during work hours, but there aren’t any statistics about the safety part. BUT, I don’t like us having dark areas when we’re open, so continue to make that part of the open-up activities in the morning. OK?” Say that last part as though there is no question about it, smile and start to walk away or move on with something else in the conversation. For example, “ƒ..make that part of the open-up activities in the morning, OK? Also, I wanted to find out how the project is coming along from yesterday. What’s going on with that?” That requires them to talk and you’ve moved on from the minor issues to more important ones. If you’re saying this to everyone in a staff meeting, you can bring up an office-wide issue. Don’t put it in email unless you have no other option. That gives it too much significance. If you have any further discussion about it, force the employee or employees to address their real conflict. “If you’re still concerned about this, that tells me you’re angry about something much deeper, so tell me what that is.” Then stop. He or she will say something to fill the silence and that may help you know better how to deal with it. If they say there is nothing more to it than just not agreeing, keep moving again. “If you want to talk about something else that is bothering you, I’m willing to listen. But we’re done talking about flipping a light switch. If I can’t ask you to do that without hours of discussion, we have a serious problem. Is there something more to it?” That will probably end the discussion; and it’s about time!

Again, this may be much more than your situation involves. But, I’ve seen something this minor become a line-in-the-dirt that created horrendous conflict and I wanted to see if I could head that off at the pass. Best wishes to you with this matter. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.