A simple guide to hospital lighting levels

The CIBSE guidelines for lighting in hospitals give detailed advice on all aspects of lighting levels and design in the sector.

Its revised Lighting Guide 2 was published in 2008 and is the lighting bible for the healthcare sector.

Along with specific task requirements, the CIBSE guide focuses on the effects of lighting on patients and staff, as well as the attention to lighting aspects of the building in pleasing ways, while a central concern is to encourage energy savings.

Significantly, the revised guide now recommends that wall-mounted luminaires for general or patient care lighting are mounted at a minimum of 1.8m, from floor level to the centre of the luminaire for greater efficiency.

For patient lighting, the task lighting requirement for reading and other similar tasks by introducing a “patient reading/activity plane” focuses on how the patients carry out these tasks. While 300 lux is the minimum level, patients in general rest with their head or back against the pillows, so the task area needs to be illuminated around the region of the patient’s torso, rather than the pillow area itself.

The Lighting Guide 2 also requires a multiple-level assessment. The direct glare from the luminaire, with its average luminance against its immediate background, should be calculated, followed by the luminance balance produced on the room’s surfaces by the luminaires.

min. level 300 lux for patients in rest

Lighting in ward areas

Activity Illuminance (lux) Area
General lighting 100 Luminaires to use lamps with a colour rendering capability of RA80
Patient reading 300 To be controlled by the patient and to be provided over the patient activity/reading area
General nursing care 300 To be provided over the general bed area with a uniformity of ≥ 0.5
Night light 5 To be provided at the general ward area with a maximum of 0.5 lux over the pillow
Watch lighting 15-20 To be provided at the bed head pillow position
Examination or treatment at bed position 1000 Rare – a portable examination light must be used if required

Lighting in intensive care and high dependancy units

Area Lux
Bed head observation (watch) 10 to 20
Bed head 30 to 50
Bed, clinical 400
Bed, examination 1000


Lighting in operating theatres and clean rooms

Area Lux Note
Operating table (directed locally) 10000 to 160000 Local switching (auto/manual)
Operating theatre (general lighting) 1000 Dimming (auto/manual)
All other work places ≥ 500 but ≤ 1000 Dimming (auto/manual)

Lighting in corridors and circulation areas

Area Lux Note
Hospital street (floor) 150 (day) 50 (night) Uniform illumination levels should be provided to avoid bright and dark patches to walls and floors. The installation should also be capable of operating at a reduced level (50 lux with 0.5 uniformity) at night for comfort and energy efficiency.
Corridors (floor) 200 (day) 50 (night) Uniform illumination levels using low glare luminaires, positioned to avoid alternating brightness patterns being viewed by trolley-borne patients. Installation should also be capable of operating at a reduced level (50 lux with 0.5 uniformity) at night for comfort and energy efficiency
Stairs (landings and treads) 150

Lighting in reception and waiting room areas

Area Lux Note
Floor 200 The lighting while being functional should mirror the efficiency and drama created at the reception areas of major commercial buildings
Reception (floor) 300 A measure of retail lighting philosophy should be employed to create a welcoming and impressionable ambience.
Enquiry desk (task area) 500 Comfortable accent lighting techniques should be employed to make the desk visually stand out from the general surroundings.

Lighting in imaging rooms

Area Lux Note
General lighting (1m above floor) 300 To be provided by ceiling fixed or recessed luminaires co-ordinated around any equipment. Two-way switching and control required.

Lighting in examination and consulting rooms

Area Lux Note
Working plane 500 Luminaire selection and positioning is important to avoid visual discomfort to patients
Couch or chair (local) 15000 to 30000 To be provided by a local examination luminaire

Lighting in canteens and dining rooms

Area Lux Note
Whole floor 50 Separately provided and switched will allow for a cleaning, security and maintenance level.
Tables 200 Accented for function and atmosphere and dimmable to cater for the social event and time of day
Serving counter 300 Comfortable accent lighting techniques should be employed for safety reasons and to provide a focal point for users of the facility


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