Questions about the harmful effects of LED lights are everywhere. Blue light blockers have become commonplace at the office, and phones have nighttime settings to minimize blue light exposure when it’s closer to bedtime. There are also claims that retinas can be harmed by blue light.
Yet, according to the EU’s Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) group, “Studies show that the radiance from LED screens in TVs, laptops, phones, tablets and toys is less than 10% of the maximum amount within safe limits set to protect the retina from injury. That means they pose no risk to the eyes in normal use.” Also of note: the LEDs in this case are right in front of a person’s face—not shining down on a work area.
However, what could surprise you is that LEDs may actually have some associated health benefits. Let’s walk through LED history, understand how LEDs work and function compared to other lighting options, and discuss the safety of LEDs—particularly in industrial work settings.
LED Lights: What Are They?
LED stands for light-emitting diode. It has two sides—the anode and the cathode. When electricity flows in the component from one side (the positive) to the other (the negative) the LED emits light. LEDs do not use heat to produce light (like the filament in an incandescent bulb) and in comparison, LEDs use very little electricity.
LEDs were invented in 1962 by Nick Holonyak, Jr., a scientist at GE trying to create a visible laser. His first LED was red. GE then made a green and yellow LED. They began to be used in IBM’s circuit boards, inside digital watches, and by the time they were in traffic lights and brake lights, 15 years had passed.
Today’s LED technology has become brighter, even more energy efficient, and LEDs last longer before needing replacement. Also of note: when LEDs were first marketed for commercial use, they weren’t available in the warm, golden color we’re now used to as an LED option—only the blue-white color. With a varying spectrum of brightness, LEDs can be completely customizable according to the needs of the space and the desires of the business / facility owner.
Safety of LED Lighting vs. Legacy Lighting Alternatives
Let’s compare LEDs to their alternative counterparts (and their possible harmful effects): Incandescent, fluorescent, and HID (High Intensity Discharge) lighting. The health benefits of LED stand out above the rest in the list:
Incandescent lights risk overheating. They can be hot to the touch, and in the wrong conditions, they can become a fire hazard.
Fluorescent lights contain mercury and produce UV light. UV light can cause eye problems, including damage to the cornea, macular degeneration, and cataracts, all leading to decreased vision. Mercury exposure can cause harm to the central nervous system and can cause skin corrosion (among other things).
High-Intensity Discharge (HID)
Some HID lamps contain hazardous radioactive materials, such as krypton-85 and thorium. Additionally, exposure to HID lamps without proper UV-light blocking filters can cause sunburn of the eye in the cornea and conjunctiva.
- LED lights do not produce harmful UV rays.
- LED lights do not contain toxic mercury in any amount.
- LED lights are cool to the touch, producing minimal heat (safer to touch and last much longer)
- LED lights are more efficient than other lighting options (less frequent replacement means less downtime and fewer manlifts to replace lights, too.)
In addition to the above points, fluorescent lights can cause eye strain, headaches, fatigue and lack of focus. Without concentration, you lose productivity and safety. If you’re in need of light immediately, for safety reasons, don’t choose HID lighting—it takes longer to start up and fully illuminate. If you’re hoping to keep your workspace lit for longer without overheating or creating a fire hazard, don’t select incandescent.
HID and fluorescent lights can also fall from the ceiling from industrial vibration—if they crack, the mercury in fluorescent lights can cause toxic exposure. If sodium lights (part of the HID category) crack, they can post a UV radiation hazard. All HID and fluorescent tubes and lamps have mercury. In fact, fluorescent lamps created before 1994 may have almost 50mg of mercury in just a 4-foot lamp. Today’s fluorescent bulbs have less mercury, but are still subject to special handling and recycling due to the mercury inside.
LEDs can run for longer, while producing less heat they maintain light-levels but reduce fire and toxicity hazards— one of the biggest safety impacts.
What about the Blue Light from LEDs?
Blue light has always been around. The sun is, after all, a natural source of blue light. With the onset of technology and screens, which are practically everywhere, blue light exposure is higher than ever—which is generally fine, but keep the benefits and tips in mind. Also of note: LEDs emit blue light along with multiple other colors of light in the spectrum.
Blue Light Benefits
Blue light helps keep you alert. It improves mood and morale. In fact, one-third of workers specify that access to comfortable light (intensity and color) is important for their daily health. (But you need the right partner to help you choose that light in order to reap its benefits.)
Tips About Blue Light
Unless you’re a swift worker, avoid blue light before you go to bed. It’s meant to keep you alert as it suppresses your body’s release of melatonin—especially when it’s inches from your face on your cell phone. Most blue light warnings stem from the overuse of technology and screens and the close proximity to our faces/eyes. Discomfort that you feel from staring at screens all day is likely eye strain, not pain from blue light—for screens, follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, stare at something ~20 feet away for 20 seconds. This will help keep your eyes from straining.
Health Benefits of LED Lighting
LED lighting actually offers health benefits when its placed in an industrial work setting:
Safety from Accidents
One study found that LED lighting helped workers detect trip hazards 94% more quickly—keeping workers safe from accidents is a top priority.
Shift workers can stay alert more easily with LED lighting. Bodies are signaled by the LEDs that it is time to work, pay attention and stay safe. Due to its high-energy wavelengths, blue light fights the hormone (melatonin) that helps you sleep.
In terms of mood and energy levels, light plays a major role. People are more likely to be positive and productive when exposed to a sufficient amount of light. Just the opposite is true, too: poor lighting contributes to depression and other health deficiencies. LED lighting is often used as treatment for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), too, thanks to its similarity to natural sunlight.
LED lighting is safer than other types of light installations thanks to the decreased or mitigated risk of toxic materials, fire hazard and harmful UV light found in other lighting options like HID, fluorescent and incandescents. LED lighting does contain higher amounts of blue light than other options, but the benefits far outweigh any perceived risks, particularly in industrial work settings.