5 Ways Better Lighting Improves Steel Plant Safety & Sustainability

Fariyal Khanbabi, CEO at Dialight


Smart Strategies for National Safety Month and Beyond

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Figure 1. Dialight SafeSite LED High Bay hazardous location-certified fixture

­Over the past few years, we’ve seen a major push toward implementing environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives in industrial settings that focus on providing a safer environment for people and the planet. Because of health concerns and staff shortages related to COVID-19, companies have implemented a wide range of initiatives designed to reduce lost time incidents, including a renewed focus on personal protective equipment (PPE), ergonomics and the deployment of on-demand safety training through dynamic, eLearning technology.

At the same time, we’ve seen huge breakthroughs in product and operational sustainability including the development of fossil-free automotive steels and low-emission and net-zero steels that reduce the carbon footprint of the manufacturers themselves, and help their customers achieve their ESG goals through working with environmentally- and employee health-conscious suppliers.

These are complex issues—steel production has traditionally been an inherently risky and relatively “dirty” process despite manufacturers’ best efforts. Not only is the industrial sector responsible for one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, but some 4.5 million personnel injuries occur each year in the metal machining and manufacturing industry.

Because of the complexity of these challenges, many organizations assume they require intricate solutions. But the truth is, doing something as simple as upgrading facility lighting to modern, high-efficiency industrial LED fixtures can go a long way toward helping companies become leaner, cleaner, greener and safer.

In fact, implementing LED lighting in any facility allows companies to double down on ESG commitments by lowering energy consumption to protect the planet, while also improving safety for workers inside the plant. With June being National Safety Month, now is the time to make better lighting a priority.  Here’s how industrial LED technology can help.

1)     Brighter, more uniform lighting aids visibility to help workers avoid hazards. Slips, trips and falls are a major cause of accidents involving injury and death, second only to motor vehicle incidents at work. Poor visibility from antiquated, sub-par lighting can make it extremely hard for staff to spot hazards as they move through the facility. Tripping hazards can easily hide in the shadows and in the case of fluid spills, it can be nearly impossible to distinguish water from something slippery like hydraulic fluid under the orange glow of conventional HID lighting.

Better lighting has proven to reduce the risk and prevalence of accidents and injuries by as much as 60%. Upgrading to brighter, more uniform LED lighting with a higher CRI that mimics natural daylight can help employees spot hazards faster and react appropriately to avoid incidents. It can also make it much easier to identify colors on warning signage and electrical wiring to avoid misunderstandings and mistakes that can lead to an incident.

2)     Long-lasting fixtures avoid maintenance risks. Conventional filament-style HID fixtures are not durable enough to handle the intense vibration and heat of heavy industrial environments like steel mills. It’s not uncommon for facility managers to put off changing out bulbs until a sizeable number have burned out, which creates worsening visibility risks over time. When it’s time to finally bite the bullet and replace them, the lighting maintenance itself can be a risky operation, requiring staff to work at high elevation off a ladder or lift, frequently overtop equipment that’s in use. The alternative is to shut down an entire production line to simply change lightbulbs, which adds additional risk for maintenance staff during take down and restart, not to mention the negative impact on productivity.

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Figure 2. Dialight LED fixtures illuminate the exterior tanks in Bridgewater, NJ


Upgrading to modern industrial LED lighting resolves all those challenges and risks, as it virtually eliminates lighting maintenance. Because LED fixtures are solid-state devices, they’re much more durable and able to withstand the demands of a harsh industrial environment. The most robust LED fixtures are warranted for a full ten years. That’s a 6X longer lifespan compared to that of a typical HID, which lasts at most 18 months under these harsh conditions. And it means facilities can essentially avoid lighting maintenance for nearly a decade, which drastically reduces the risk of maintenance-related accidents and injuries as well as any production impacts.

3)     Crisp, white light aids alertness. 24/7 operations where staff work late or overnight shifts can have a major impact on their natural circadian rhythms, which in turn affects the duration and quality of their sleep. That means staff may be coming to work tired and groggy, which hinders their judgement and slows their reaction times, putting them at greater risk for an accident. 

The bright white light emitted from modern LED lights creates a much more vibrant, daylight-like atmosphere that has been proven to reduce fatigue, improve alertness and increase cognitive performance for people. With a CRI that mimics natural sunlight, LEDs can influence workers’ circadian rhythms to make them feel more awake, even during nighttime hours, helping them work safer. In fact, the United Steelworkers recommends bright white lighting in steel manufacturing facilities to help their members work safely.

4)     More efficient lighting lowers emissions. Industrial lighting consumes around 58 terawatt hours of electricity each year, and especially in facilities where the lights are left on 24/7, this can drive up a facility’s carbon impact. Facing increasing pressure to reduce carbon footprints, we’ve seen a surge in green manufacturing investment from governments, private equity and companies alike.

LED lighting is up to 80% more energy efficient compared to conventional HID sources, which means switching to high-efficiency LED systems can substantially reduce carbon footprints. Because LEDs are much brighter and offer greater optical control to direct the light where it’s needed most, many companies find they can even reduce the number of fixtures required to light the same space, which adds to the energy savings. And thanks to their instant-on capability, as compared to the minutes-long warmup period required of HID lights, LEDs are compatible with automated control systems and sensors that can turn the lights on only when needed, thus reducing burn time and energy consumption.

5)     Fewer consumables mean less waste. The fact that conventional lighting requires such frequent maintenance results in a lot of waste and emissions. First, there’s the transportation—the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. The trucks used to ship replacement components generate a significant amount of pollutants, which harm people and the planet. Both the packaging and spent bulbs require disposal, and many HID bulbs like high-pressure sodium and mercury vapor contain toxic amounts of mercury, nitrous oxide and sodium dioxide. In fact, a single HPS bulb contains enough mercury to poison an entire classroom full of children, which means if one gets broken during maintenance (which they frequently do), workers in the vicinity are at risk of acute mercury poisoning, not to mention long-term health impacts from repeated exposure. Intact bulbs require hazardous material disposal, which risks soil and water contamination.

On the other hand, because high-performance industrial LED fixtures last a decade or more, the need for replacement is extremely rare. This virtually eliminates the transportation and waste disposal issues prevalent with conventional lighting consumables. LED fixtures contain no hazardous materials, which means they pose zero risk to staff, and many are designed with recyclable components, further reducing environmental risk.

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Figure 3a & 3b: Dialight LED Area Lights providing a brighter, safer work environment.


Manufacturers have a responsibility to ensure the safety of their staff and the communities in which they operate, and to be good global citizens by reducing their impact on the planet. Upgrading to high-efficiency industrial LED lighting kills two birds with one stone by lowering energy consumption and emissions, and creating a safer, more vibrant workplace where staff can perform better and live healthier, longer lives.