Coatesville Fire Department

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WHC Installs State-of-the-Art Circadian LED Lighting System - Fatigue Management
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By EMS Deputy Chief Lukas Jenkins
May 23, 2019

WHC has installed one of the most fundamental yet rare fatigue management tools available - a circadian lighting system. This is one of the first installations of its type into a station in the country and believed to be the first in Pennsylvania.

The state-of-the-art dynamic wireless lighting system changes both color and brightness throughout the day, bringing the benefits of sunlight indoors during the daytime while being protective from blue light exposure at night. The lighting system creates a brighter (circadian stimulus) environment during the day (daytime alerting) than historically designed for in the built environment in the United States. The intent is to help stabilize and support our sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) by emulating light quality and properties of the sun indoors through optimized light for the circadian action spectrum. It is important to receive this circadian stimulus in the early morning through lunchtime to re-set the body’s biological clock. New standards such as the WELL Building Standard (backed by medical science) provide health and wellness best practices designed to create buildings where occupants thrive.

Fatigue is a workplace risk that needs to be well managed for the safe and effective delivery of emergency services. Emergency responders (EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, telecommunicators and police officers) are not immune to the impacts of shift work or sleep disorders.

What we know:

1.) Most shift work has a negative effect on sleep quality, sleep duration, particularly for those personnel who work early morning or night shifts.

2.) Shifts should be limited to <24hrs. Emergency responders need to recover from shift work, getting more than 11 hours off between shifts and getting more than a day or two off between blocks of shift work.

3.) There is likely a dose-dependent relationship between shift work and numerous poor health outcomes (hypothesis). Chronic disruptions, such as those experienced by night-shift workers, can lead to increased risk of various diseases.

Our integrated team on this project come from diverse backgrounds including many healthcare professionals with various levels of training medical training, scientists focused on healthy buildings, industrial hygienists, IT professionals, and those mechanical and electrically inclined. As a progressive 24/7 emergency services agency, WHC staff and volunteers recognize the impacts shift work can have on our health and strive to provide a healthy and safe work environment as possible.

Fatigue Management Guidelines Currently in Place at WHC:

- Blue filtering software (for night use) installed on iPads & computers
- 92% of WHC shifts are limited to <24hrs
- Staff have access to caffeine (WHC provides free coffee & a well-stocked 24/7 self-serve company store/snack bar.)
- Opportunities for on-duty napping on an as needed basis
- Education and training on fatigue risk management (to date circadian rhythm and lighting fundamentals & night-shifting electronic device software).

More about circadian rhythm and circadian lighting:

Last year, the Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to 3 Americans for their work on circadian rhythm science. Their research uncovered three genes responsible for helping to explain how the human circadian cycle works, including how light affects our daily rhythms.

Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young who won the award explained how plants, animals and human beings are regulated by chronobiology, or biological clocks, that synchronize bodily rhythms with the Earth’s revolutions. The biological clock is tuned to the rhythm of earth’s day-night cycle that is innate to humans. Exposure to blue light (or lack thereof) determines the gene expression timing and secretion of a hormone called melatonin, which in turn determines our sleep-wake cycle.

Under natural conditions, our biological clocks are very precise. This is because they are "set" (synchronized) by environmental cues, of which blue light is the most important cue during the day. However, due to changing lifestyle, daily stresses, and artificial (LED) lighting and devices, humans are sleeping much less than they did in the past due to circadian disruptions and unfortunately, the quality of our sleep and health has suffered as well. Examples circadian disruption health impacts include difficulty sleeping, less sleep, chronic sleep disorders, contribution to the causation of cancers, increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Electronic devices emit light containing blue wavelengths, which tricks our brains into thinking that it is daytime. Numerous studies (Harvard, University of Washington, Thomas Jefferson University, University of Toronto) suggest that blue light in the evening disrupts the brain’s natural sleep-wake cycles (which are crucial for optimal function of the body) by suppressing the bodies natural release of melatonin, a protective hormone. Melatonin's protective properties include anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticoagulopathic properties in addition to endothelial protective effects. WHC’s circadian lighting implementation (which also includes computer and iPad display night-shifting software) is the most protective of blue light exposure of the available tunable systems, a demand of our 24/7 facility. Dimmer nighttime environments, approaching typical bedtimes, is also a key to promoting dim light melatonin onset. Team members have also been educated about circadian health/lighting and night-shifting software for their personal phones and computers over the last year at bi-annual staff meetings.

Humans spend 90% of our time indoors where lighting is generally inadequate (of circadian stimulus during the day), 90% of diseases are attributed to the “environment” (only 10% to genes), and 90% of operating expenses are employees compensation. We knew upgrading to standard fixed (non-circadian) LEDs would be inappropriate for a 24/7 facility, actively managing fatigue, let alone having a concern for the health and wellbeing of our team. We knew we could make a big improvement in fatigue management, ensuring our staff has a bright future by installing circadian lighting. The circadian lighting system is the perfect fit, a no-brainer, and perfect timing.


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