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Choose the Right Portable Work Lighting


Maintenance and construction crews often work in places that don’t have permanent lighting. Portable work lighting brings the illumination that crews need to get work done when daylight isn’t enough.

The right jobsite lights will be bright enough to illuminate the work area and simple to set up at the appropriate distance from the work. They’ll also have any special features demanded by the working environment.

Here are some things to consider when choosing jobsite lights:


The light output of a lamp – its brightness – is measured in lumens. Sometimes the best lamp for a job will be a low-lumen light source, like a 150-lumen hand lamp that brightens the space immediately in front of a worker. At the other end, some jobs benefit from having a large lighting array that can bathe an area in 100,000 lumens or more.

The brightness you need depends on many factors, including the size of your work area, the number of lights you’re using, how far away from the work they’ll be and even the type of work you’ll be doing. Detail-oriented work is often easier in brighter light, for example.

What about OSHA requirements for lighting? To maintain safety on construction sites, in warehouses and at many other kinds of workplaces, OSHA requires that the lighting intensity be at least five foot-candles. Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to convert lumens to foot-candles because they’re measurements of different things: lumens measure the total amount of light coming out of a lamp while foot-candles measure how much light is falling on a surface. As something gets further from a lamp, it will be less brightly lit, meaning it will have fewer foot-candles of illumination. The best way to figure out how much illumination is in your workspace is to use a light meter.

When thinking about brightness, keep shadows in mind, too. It’s frustrating when you need to constantly duck or lean away from your work to avoid blocking the light. Using multiple lights, taller stands and lights with multiple lamp heads can help workers worry less about blocking the light.

It’s also worth considering the number of brightness levels a lamp offers. With multiple levels, there’s more flexibility when it comes to placement, and you may be able to conserve power with lower levels, too.

Lighting Technology

Jobsite lights use LED, halogen or metal halide bulbs. LED bulbs can be more expensive, but they typically last longer, use less energy and operate at lower temperatures than halogen or halide bulbs. This can be especially important if you’re using a battery-powered light, or if you’ll be working near the fixture or in a hot environment.

Power Configuration

Corded lights are always ready to go and can run a long time – as long as there’s an available outlet.

Battery-powered lights are useful for places where there’s no access to an electric power source. With battery-powered lights, there are also no cords to create a tripping hazard.

For maximum versatility, battery and corded lights can plug into an outlet or run on battery power as needed.

Ratings and Classifications

A light’s IP rating is a measure of ingress protection, or how well it can keep out water and dust. The level of dust-proofing is indicated by the first digit in the rating, while the level of water-proofing is indicated by the second digit, with higher digits indicating greater protection.

This chart shows some common IP ratings, getting more dust-protective moving down and more water-protective moving right.


Withstands water splashes from any direction

(Water rating = 4)

Protects against water jets

(Water rating = 5)

Withstands powerful water jets from any direction

(Water rating = 6)

Withstands immersion in water for up to 30 minutes to a depth of 1 m

(Water rating = 7)

Not rated for dust protection

(Dust rating = X)





Keeps out solid objects larger than 1 mm

(Dust rating = 4)






(Dust rating = 5)






(Dust rating = 6)





If you’re working around flammable materials, you’ll need a light with an NEC hazard classification to prevent sparks that could start a fire. Jobsite lights can be certified for operation where there may be flammable vapors (Class I), combustible dusts (Class II), or ignitable fibers and flyings (Class III). If the flammable material is present during normal operations, Division 1-rated lights are needed, while Division 2-rated lights are where the material is usually confined or not present in an ignitable concentration.

Which Type of Light is Right?

Jobsite lights come in five basic configurations. The right type of lighting will depend on the work you’re doing.

Hand lamps are compact lantern-style single-bulb lights that can be carried by hand and hung from a hook or clamp to illuminate a small jobsite. They’re light and easily portable, small enough to carry as part of a toolkit. Hand lamps are especially useful if you’ll be moving frequently or working in a confined space.

Jobsite lights are freestanding floodlight arrays made to illuminate larger work areas. Too big to be held by hand, jobsite lights can be mounted on floor stands and tripods or rolled into place on carts. While jobsite lights aren’t as portable as hand lamps, they’re typically much brighter and can be aimed to cover a larger work area, providing illumination for several workers.

360-degree jobsite lights are large, omnidirectional lights that illuminate whole rooms. These lights can be mounted on floor stands and tripods. Many models have stands rising nine to 12 feet to provide overhead lighting. Lights with a self-righting stand have a weighted base that resists tipping over when bumped. Balloon lights feature an inflatable shade that surrounds the bulb to reduce glare and shadows.

Remote area and emergency scene lights are rugged, battery-powered floodlight arrays designed for outdoor use. Remote area lights have adjustable height stands to put light where it’s needed, and their large battery packs can support run-times ranging from 8 to 500 hours. 

Hanging and string lights hang from beams or rafters, providing overhead light that minimizes shadows and trip hazards. String lights have multiple lamp heads daisy-chained together by a power cord to create an array overhead, while hanging lights, clamp lights and bracket-mounted lights have a single lamp. Hanging lights don’t take up any floor space, but they may require a ladder for installation, which means they can’t be deployed as quickly as tripod-mounted lamps. 

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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.