Blinded by the (fluorescent) office lighting
January 7, 2008 9:41 AM   Subscribe

My cube is as bright as an operating room. Help me save my eyesight and sanity.

Over the weekend, the facilities department here saw fit to replace some dusty fluorescent tubes directly over my desk. I also think one must have been missing/broken before, because there's no way it could be this bright from just swapping out dirty tubes. Anyway, I feel like I'm in a torture chamber or an operating room. Is there anything I can do to mitigate this?

Relevant info:
1. It's a very standard 3-sided 8x8 cell cube with an L shaped desk. I can't move the computer to the other corner, because there is a file cabinet in the way.
2. The light is also very standard, what you'd see in most US office buildings or schools. It's a drop ceiling.
3.. Anything I put over the light will be immediately noticed and I'm sure not allowed (this is a big corporation that really limits what you can do - for example, we can't have Firefox, nor coffeemakers).
4. I'm not normally vision-impaired in any way. I don't wear glasses or contacts. The light is not literally blinding me (no glare on my screen), but it's freakin annoying.
5. It's a big hassle to get the facilities department to do anything around here.
posted by desjardins to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
1) Wear sunglasses or a visor
2) Take one of the tubes out early or late in the day?
posted by Pants! at 9:51 AM on January 7, 2008

Not knowing the layout of your office...Guessing that it's the 2x4 overhead light fixtures...And, dirty/ near gone tubes can really reduce the light level, so it's not surprising that you'd notice the change.

If you can stand on your desk (Note: not the swiveling office chair!) and reach the light fixture, you can turn a bulb until it is not fully connected. If it's a fluorescent tube, it will stay in place - depending on the number of tubes in each light, you can loosen as many as required to get back to your comfort level. (facilities will not notice for a long time that this has happened - they usually change them on a schedule.) If you cannot loosen the bulb, try putting an opaque plastic over the lense to diffuse the glare...

I stand on my desk to put something over the air distribution vent when the AC is going full blast, and remove it again in the winter when I need the heat.
posted by mightshould at 10:01 AM on January 7, 2008

In your situation in the past I've waited until I was the only one around, and removed the light cover and twisted one or two of the lights in the bank to be just slightly off contact. I did this because I figure it's better to ask forgiveness than permission since I didn't want it to take weeks for a request to go through and I wasn't damaging anything.

Just remember: the light is there so that you can do your work. Don't feel bad either asking them to take care of this or taking care of it yourself if it's preventing you from working. The light isn't the one getting work done and making money for the company, you are.
posted by voidcontext at 10:04 AM on January 7, 2008

Any chance that you'll get used to it? I bought the wrong color compact fluorescent bulbs for a light fixture in my apartment, which gave my living room the quality of light of a typical office. For a few days, it gave me a terrible headache, but now I've gotten used to it and I keep forgetting to buy the right bulbs. If all else fails, give it a few days and see if it becomes more tolerable.
posted by amro at 10:06 AM on January 7, 2008

Nthing pulling out the tube. (If possible.) I was really struggling at my desk before I pulled mine out and replaced it with a desk lamp.

2nding voidcontext's feeling on not worrying about getting in trouble about this. While the lack of coffee and Firefox are troubling, this seems like a tougher one to argue against. Depending on the overall light picture in your office, maybe the missing tube would make things aesthetically unpleasing from a distance, but that's a stretch.

Though be careful that the light you replace it with isn't TOO dim...

"Doesn't this just want to make you curl up and forget about the world?"
posted by SpiffyRob at 10:14 AM on January 7, 2008

I had a similar problem a number of years ago, and strangely enough, I found that adding more light--an incandescent desk lamp--helped considerably. The warm, continuous light of the lamp offset the constant 110hz flicker of the fluorescent tubes and made my cube much more tolerable. Might be worth a try.
posted by ad_hominem at 10:16 AM on January 7, 2008

Loosen the bulb.

If I got caught I'd lie like a bastard and claim I got migraines.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 10:18 AM on January 7, 2008

I have had this problem too. In the past I have always just removed a bulb myself. More recently, when I moved into an office where the lights were too high for me to reach, I called facilities and had them do it for me.

Making things comfortable for you to work is very different than getting Firefox or a coffeemaker. I think your company should be supportive, although if you have any doubt just do it yourself and I'm sure no one will notice.

posted by tk at 10:22 AM on January 7, 2008

Nthing the bulb twisting. If confronted, add to the above excuses about with:
"Just doing my part, trying to save money on the electric bill. If we took out 1 bank of bulbs per fixture, we could save $x.xx/xx% a year! Imagine that!"
posted by enobeet at 10:30 AM on January 7, 2008

I agree with ad hominem above, the main annoyance with flourescent lighting is the frequency they flicker at...this sometimes does not mesh well with monitor frequencies, causing headaches etc. Try a desk lamp first to see if it offsets the flickering the overhead ones create.

I also agree with those above that you should atleast mention it to HR or management, it's affecting your work...I'm sure they'd understand.
posted by samsara at 10:31 AM on January 7, 2008

You can cover the light source with a lush, dark fabric if you fancy the bordello look.
posted by HotPatatta at 11:21 AM on January 7, 2008

Oh, you say you can't put anything over the light. Nix my previous idea. Can you just not turn the overhead light on and use a desk or floor lamp instead?
posted by HotPatatta at 11:23 AM on January 7, 2008

I think we are getting set to have a little bit of a civil war about fluorescent lighting, and I think we can count on a 'big corporation' such as yours to react with impatient annoyance to any complaints about their energy, cost, and carbon saving schemes here in the early stages, and I'd hate to see you get swept up in that, so I agree that you should try to solve this problem for yourself without involving the hierarchy.

Most large and many medium sized fluorescent installations now use ballasts that run at 2500Hz or higher, so flicker may not be an issue. Color could be, as well as overall brightness; light toward the blue end of the spectrum seems to be responsible for most of the problems people with lupus, eczema and porphyria have with them (as mentioned in the link above), but you could solve that by getting sunglasses that are biased against blue light if you go with glasses-- which seems like the best solution to me.
posted by jamjam at 12:07 PM on January 7, 2008

Do you have an occupational health department or representative? Speak to them about it.
posted by kenchie at 12:32 PM on January 7, 2008

In a similar situation (with corporate overlords who periodically come by to adjust the blinds to corporate standard angle) I stood on my desk early in the morning and gave two of the three fluorescent tubes a 90 degree twist. They stayed that way for about three months, until all the lights in the area were replaced, and then I just twisted the new ones.
posted by fidelity at 12:32 PM on January 7, 2008

Do you have to have those lights on at all? A lot of people where I work don't ever use the overhead lighting and just plug in either standing halogens or desk lamps.

Unless the change in light was just that your older bulb was wearing out, they might've changed the type of bulbs. (Some fluorescents are bluer and some are more orange, wiki has some good stuff on this). I wouldn't be afraid to mention it's uncomfortable for you - lighting quality is an issue that smart corporations' building or HR managers care about, because it affects productivity and use of sick days. Once, I was an assistant to a person in charge of this sort of stuff, and the first day after a change in lighting, something like four out of seventy people went home with headaches they attributed to the new lights. The company might not do anything, but if enough people mention it's a problem, they might change back to less blinding bulbs.
posted by salvia at 1:57 PM on January 7, 2008

Double secret lighting designer trick: find the nearest theatrical or film lighting rental shop/supplier. Buy a few GAM tubes in "neutral density" in the proper size according to the fluorescent tube (T8, T12, etc.) Maybe start with the lightest version, .15ND and upgrade if necessary. When no one's looking, slip them on the fluorescent tubes and they'll look just like they did when they were dirty. There's no seam and they fit quite snugly on the lamp so they're virtually undetectable. I wouldn't recommend trying to make your own tubes out of standard sheets of gel as the UV from the fluorescents will burn through them in a matter of days.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 3:24 PM on January 7, 2008 [5 favorites]

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