Spotlight on Safety

by Nate Hunter

Lighting best practices: Creating safe retail environments.


Sufficient lighting plays a key role in exterior facility safety; but business owners and property managers may feel confident that the job is complete, as long as lights appear operational. However, beyond functioning bulbs, factors such as lighting design, visibility and maintenance play a key role in creating a safe and convenient atmosphere for customers and employees alike.

From a customer, personnel and branding standpoint, having adequate lighting in place that is strategically positioned and regularly monitored for effectiveness makes an important difference toward helping prevent crime and mitigate liability concerns. Regardless of the situation, negative incidents can bring lasting repercussions that can harm a business by discouraging foot traffic and commerce. Being proactive is critical.

Whether a standalone facility or a shopping center storefront, there are a variety of measures to consider when making sure each facility is as safe as possible. While there are variables beyond anyone’s control, owners and renters should consider the following:


Seeing and being seen in and around a building is crucial. As such, it’s important to keep the surrounding area clear from obstructions, such as overgrown foliage or large signage, which can provide a hiding place for criminals. There should also be clear sightlines, so customers can easily see if they are being approached and can take appropriate action. Likewise, a passerby could see a crime taking place and alert authorities accordingly.

Maintenance and Positioning

Exterior lighting fixtures should be regularly cleaned and maintained so they are as bright as possible. The configuration of lighting should be reviewed as well. Positioning fixtures in a way that creates “light islands,” with vast surrounding swaths of dark and shadows, is not recommended. Lights mounted on poles as opposed to wall surfaces help reduce this issue.

Lighting Types

The type of lighting used makes an important difference in terms of performance. Metal halide is traditionally used in retail and car lots, but can degrade significantly over time. Fluorescent lights can be impacted by extreme temperatures. Recent innovations, such as LED, are gaining popularity to help make lighting more efficient from an operational and maintenance standpoint. This technology achieves color rendering index levels that are superior and last much longer than conventional lighting, while consuming far less energy, which minimizes overall expense.


Landscaping can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of lighting and other security measures, including cameras. Tree trunks should be clear of leaves and limbs from 6 to 8 feet above the ground to provide clear visibility. All too often pole lights and trees are planted on the same islands in parking lots and ultimately interfere with the operation of the lighting. Landscaping should also be out of the line of sight of cameras to obtain the best images possible. Most municipalities have ordinances which dictate exact requirements for shrubs and trees, so it’s important to be familiar with local standards.


The type of lighting used can have an impact on camera resolution and clarity, which influences the ability to identify objects and persons. LED can be effective, but isn’t sufficient on light poles beyond 35 feet tall. Metal halide casts a bright, white light that reveals the complete color spectrum, as opposed to high or low pressure sodium lights that project an orange/yellow cast, which skews perception.


Grounds should be regularly inspected to check for missing or non-functional lights and overgrown landscaping. Lighting levels should also be monitored with a photometric meter because illumination can be diminished over time, reducing the effectiveness of lighting even though they appear to be working properly. Most importantly, be sure to evaluate the facility at night. Deficiencies will be more obvious in dark conditions and appropriate action can be taken.

Regency Centers Reduced LightingAt every point around the exterior of a building, from front and rear parking lots to lighting that is attached and surrounding a facility, establishing defined standards regarding lighting, visibility and maintenance should be a priority. This can help prevent negative occurrences from taking place and keep a business better prepared when they do. Various regulatory bodies, such as OSHA, mandate the establishment of a safe environment for employees and sufficient lighting plays a key role. As an additional reference, the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America puts forth exterior lighting guidelines that can be helpful.

For liability purposes and to substantiate that every reasonable measure was taken to keep customers and employees safe, it is recommended that all of these activities and observations be documented and logged into a centralized database. This will allow the information to be easily accessed and referenced to gauge the frequency and thoroughness of maintenance and inspections. It also creates a baseline of equipment performance that can be compared weekly, monthly and annually for maximum effectiveness.

In the unfortunate event that an incident or accident occurs, inspection and maintenance data can be utilized if faced with legal action. The more documentation available and formalized processes in place, the better opportunity a business will have to be protected from lawsuits, while maintaining the safest environment possible.

The ultimate goal for this entire exercise is to protect individuals from harm. A residual benefit is creating an inviting location that entices customers to frequent the business. By making visibility and lighting a priority, reinforced by regular documented maintenance and inspections, retailers will be able to forge stronger customer relationships. This, in turn, will improve retention and attract new customers, all while improving safety.








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