Now that the wellness message has permeated much of the commercial office sector, you’d be hard pressed to find an office without an indoor plant. But what about workplace wellness for warehouse and factory workers?
It’s been all eyes on the working conditions of warehouse workers with Amazon employees raising concerns about a suite of issues, including poor treatment of injured employees and scarily-high productivity demands (especially during peak gift-giving periods, such as Christmas).
But there’s also the working environment to consider. Are workers in industrial buildings exposed to enough natural light,
quality air and safe drinking water? What about access to healthy food and a pleasant green outdoor space to eat it?
JLL strategic sustainability director – energy & sustainability services Lisa Hinde says the industrial sector, which includes manufacturing and logistics facilities, is at the start of its wellness journey.
“And if there was any place that needed a health and wellbeing intervention, it would have to be the industrial sector,” says Hinde.
But she expects the wellness trend to spread though the industrial sector as quickly as it did through the commercial office sector.
“Once there’s a first mover, then there’s a second mover, and then the whole industry catches on, and then tenants start requesting it.”
She says leaders in the sector are starting to nail environmental sustainability and will be looking at the next phase of the sustainability journey, beyond roofs adorned with solar panels.
Hinde is on the WELL Building Institute’s (IWBI) international advisory group on the industrial sector, which was set up in response to rising interest. The group of experts will ensure that the wellness rating tool is both relevant and accessible to the industrial sector.
She says mental health is a theme that “keeps coming up”. Part of the problem is that many industrial facilitates are in regional areas, a long way from the “hustle and bustle” where you can “walk around and have a break as part of your workday”.
Long hours, high noise levels, and large amounts of physical labour can cause workers’ mental health to decline. This is putting pressure on owners and developers of industrial facilities to provide more green space, respite areas and walking paths so “workers are not just isolated to the area around the one facility”.
Because these facilities are usually in regional areas, people tend to travel to work by car, on their own. In a recent survey of two industrial warehouses, Hinde says not one regular occupant cycled to work, even though end-of-trip facilities were available at their workplace.
“Understanding the habits of workers will allow adequate planning to support more useful programs or infrastructure,” she told The Fifth Estate.
“This could mean encouraging the use of a carpooling system or discounted public transport for regular workers.”
The other priority for these facilities – especially in hot parts of Australia such as Western Sydney – is managing indoor
temperature. Hinde says a lot of industrial staff are working in warehouses without airconditioning.
Sometimes, it’s so hot employees are not allowed to work due to the dangers, which will only become more frequent as temperatures rise. Hinde says the potential to pare back the number of days lost to such shut downs will drive the industry to do more for worker wellness.
IWBI is looking beyond health and safety concerns in the sector and asking “how can you be regenerative?”
However, it’s a tricky sector to apply wellness certifications to because of the wide variety of building uses. For example, some facilities are used solely for storage space with only four full-time workers in an adjoining airconditioned office, but others house 200-plus full time workers in a warehouse.
“The key is understanding the expected end use in all parts of the facility to allow interventions that will support the tenants model of operation.
“For example, if there are going to be a high proportion of regular occupants in the warehouse, then it would be wise to invest in thermal comfort interventions and a larger respite area for breaks.”
Another complication is that tenants have operational control over how their facilities are run, meaning owners and developers can feel limited by what they can do to support individual tenant wellness needs.
Hinde says it’s important to start addressing these issues, with the demand for logistics space only expected to grow to keep pace with our insurmountable appetites for home delivered goods purchased online.
Leading the charge
WELL Building Institute vice president Australia and New Zealand Jack Noonan says designing for wellness is still a relatively new notion for the industrial sector, but the global leaders are starting to take action.
One of those is logistics real estate company Prologis, the world’s largest owner of industrial facilities. Last year, the company delivered a 25,803 square metre build-to-suit distribution facility for Pantos Logistics in Tilburg, Netherlands, that achieved WELL Certified Gold.
This logistics facility is no soulless grey shed. The inside of the building is lined with green walls, which gives the facility a “completely different atmosphere,” according to Prologis head of project management Northern Europe Arthur van Kooij.
There’s a refreshment stand in every corner with fresh water meticulously treated and filtered according to WELL standards. The indoor spaces are also much lighter than a typical logistics facility.
The building envelope is airtight with a glass vestibule acting as an air lock for a clean indoor environment and to ensure energy efficiency. Other air quality measures include a heat pump ventilation system and also windows that can be opened for a nice burst of fresh air when the outdoor air quality is clean enough.
There’s a large, welcoming entry and break areas strategically positioned away from the operating space so staff can have a quiet moment to themselves. Outside the building, there’s a landscaped area with park benches for break times.
There’s also a “smart wall “that workers can use to provide feedback about the temperature and the air quality.
The logistics giant is also responsible for the first WELL certified warehouse in Tacoma in Washington state. It also has great quality air, water and natural sunlight, as well as an outdoor walking trail for use during breaks, and a blueberry patch to promote healthy eating and awareness of native species.
The Tacoma warehouse was a product of IWBI’s warehouse pilot program that started in 2017.
Since the program started, Noonan says WELL has been applied to a number of industrial properties around the world.
Noonan says there’s a lot of interest from the Australian industrial sector but no WELL ratings so far.
Industrial assets under pressure from investors like any other sector
Noonan says that the organisation recognises that the health and wellbeing interventions that have taken other sectors by storm can have “significant impacts on the people who work in industrial facilities”.
“Further, large-scale owners of industrial assets are under the same market pressures of other asset classes when it comes to ESG reporting and performance,” he says, despite the fact that social sustainability is typically an underreported component of ESG performance.
“But this is a trend that is changing quickly with investors looking at health and wellbeing as material to performance.”
Noonan also says tenants and employees are starting to expect more from their places of work – and not just the basics such as good quality air, water acoustics and lighting.
“They are increasingly looking at other health and wellbeing programing opportunities, such as physical activity opportunities, support for active commuting, policies that address the risks for shift workers, incorporation of nature into spaces, and healthier food options.”