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CfAD on why logistics should prioritize employee health and safety

With a 60% employee turnover rate in the North American industrial sector, prioritizing employee wellness is now a prerequisite for maintaining productivity and output, says Joanna Frank, CEO of CfADF.

When it comes to attracting and retaining top talent, reducing injuries and absenteeism, decreasing stress levels and increasing overall job satisfaction, employee health and wellness can no longer be an afterthought.

With a 60 percent employee turnover rate in the North American industrial sector and 5 percent of warehouse workers – or approximately 73,000 individuals – experiencing work-related injuries or illness each year, prioritizing employee health and wellness is now a prerequisite for maintaining productivity and output.

Not only are investors, developers and property managers within the industrial sector increasingly understanding the immediate impacts of optimizing the workplace, they are also recognizing the long-term benefits and inherent value of prioritizing health in the design and operations of industrial spaces – and especially in logistics properties.

Despite the growing momentum, and the fact that 87 percent of employees across all sectors consider health and wellness when choosing an employer, the logistics sector still lags in meeting this moment. With one in three industrial workers citing health concerns as the leading cause of absences, the demand for prioritizing the safety, health and wellbeing of people in the workplace is only intensifying. And with that, the imperative for an integrated approach with thorough guidelines is stronger than ever.

Even prior to covid-19, the logistics sector faced difficulties brought on by the rapid growth of e-commerce, a tightening labor market and high levels of employee turnover. But with workers deemed essential to meeting the supply chain demands exacerbated by the pandemic, we have witnessed a series of coronavirus outbreaks across warehouse sites and transportation hubs and, understandably, subsequent calls for workplace improvements in everything from air ventilation standards to sick leave policies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The demand for prioritizing the safety, health and wellbeing of people in the workplace is only intensifying”
Joanna Frank
CfAD

 

Report solutions

In light of these ongoing challenges, the Center for Active Design (CfAD) and QuadReal Property Group teamed up to author A Better Box: Optimizing Industrial Spaces for Employee Health and Wellness.

This report, published in January, identifies key design and operations strategies for optimizing employee health within light manufacturing sites, storage and distribution centers, and flex spaces.

Designed to serve as a playbook for every stakeholder, the report provides actionable guidance for owners, facility managers, tenants and investors to develop a ‘new and improved normal’ for industrial spaces – one where worker health and workplace preparedness are prioritized through strategic design and operational interventions.

The research behind this report builds upon the work conducted by CfAD to develop the Commercial and Industrial Site Fitwel certification. With three areas of impact – maximizing location and site accessibility, designing functional and supportive interiors, and creating spaces that promote productivity and preparedness – this report offers more than 30 industrial-specific strategies for improving employee health through design and operations.

Rob Lauer, senior vice-president, industrial, east, at QuadReal, says: “The industrial sector is maturing, and in partnering with our warehouse and logistics tenants we know that they have higher expectations in terms of employee health and wellness. At QuadReal, our teams are making even more conscious choices at our existing properties and new projects to prioritize occupant health in support of our commitment to creating resilient and sustainable communities.”

Here is an overview of some of the report’s timely recommendations:

Maximizing location and site accessibility

With a rising interest in last-mile delivery, it is becoming increasingly possible to locate industrial sites in population centers. This would not only increase the active transportation and physical activity of employees; it also has the potential to reduce supply chain costs by 50 percent.

In addition, opting for sites with natural greenery nearby or finding ways to enhance existing outdoor spaces with greenery can have a real benefit. Employee survey results indicate that, as contact with nature increases during the workday, perceived stress and generalized health complaints decrease.

In addition, outdoor space amenities – such as walking paths, flexible seating and water features – encourage workers to get outside during their breaks, promoting increased interaction and physical activity.

Designing functional and supportive interiors

Among the leading injuries sustained by people working in industrial spaces are musculoskeletal disorders, which affect muscles, tendons and joints. These disorders cost US employers between $15 billion and $20 billion per year in compensation costs.

Fortunately, there are many ways to prevent these injuries, and much of this has to do with the design of the interior space. Making sure that the heaviest and most frequently picked parcels are placed within the golden zone, or at chest height, is key.

In addition, managing exposure to extreme temperatures is vital. Integrating high-efficiency heating and cooling systems can limit long-term exposure to extreme temperatures. This can help to prevent heat exhaustion, dehydration and other heat-related illnesses, as well as muscle pain and cramping, and respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms caused by extreme cold.

Creating spaces that promote productivity and preparedness

When it comes to employee health, operational protocols are essential. One example of this is paid sick leave. Paid sick leave has been shown to reduce risk of worker injury, with one study finding that workers with paid sick leave were 28 percent less likely than those without it to experience workplace injuries.

To remain productive, employees must trust employers to keep their best interests in mind, even in emergency situations. As the covid-19 crisis and climate change have made clear, safety and preparation are key. Sites that have planned for the worst not only ensure the well-being of those working on site; they also quickly become the most appealing assets.

In addition, adopting the measures outlined in the report can serve as a powerful first step for promoting health and wellness in industrial spaces and the eventual achievement of Fitwel certification. While the report features practical recommendations for promoting employee health within the industrial sector based on research and science, our Fitwel Commercial and Industrial Site certification quantifies these guidelines and provides precise requirements for achieving certification.

The logistics sector has a tremendous opportunity to adopt these efforts and to put into action the very approachable guidelines of this people-first playbook.

Joanna Frank is CEO of the Center for Active Design and an operator of Fitwel. For the full report, visit fitwel.org.