Did you know the average person spends 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime? With so much time spent at the workplace, employees need a work environment that doesn't compromise their health or safety, especially in a post-COVID world

Whether it's a worksite with heavy machinery or equipment or an office with desks and chairs, potential safety hazards can exist anywhere, which is why employee health and safety should be a top priority when designing your workspace. 

Here at Egyptian Workspace Partners, we're here to help you make sense of all the health and safety regulations, both federal and statewide, and walk you through the entire design process, step-by-step. 

In this article, we'll take a look at six ways you can design for employee health and safety in the workplace, as well as how your employees can benefit from a safe, productive work environment that puts their needs above everything else. 

6 Ways to Design for employee health and safety

1. Make Employee Health and Safety a top priority 

Design for Employee Health and Safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states office safety as an obligation and requires that all employers provide an office environment free from hazards. 

Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to create a safe workplace for your employees to be highly engaged and productive. The first step is designing a well-laid office space with ample walkways. 

Lighting, for example, is also important. Poorly lit rooms or flickering bulbs can contribute to poor health and an increased risk of accidents, while a workspace with ample lighting can prevent eye strain and help people avoid trips or falls. 

In addition, employees must be able to evacuate the building safely and in plenty of time in case of a fire. Fire alarms and extinguishers should be placed in key areas, and fire exits need to be placed throughout the building with no obstructions. 

Anti-slip flooring materials, like hardwood or carpet, can help eliminate trip hazards, especially in very high traffic areas. Walk-off mats located at building entrances and stairwells can also eliminate slipping caused by wet shoes. 

Design Considerations

  • Place fire extinguishers and fire alarms in areas storing flammable goods or combustibles and fire doors throughout the building so employees can evacuate safely
  • Provide storage for modular furniture solutions, like stackable chairs and folding tables, so employees can avoid obstacles in the middle of important pathways
  • Install modular glass walls and situate furniture to provide natural lighting and optimize the amount of lighting your office receives 
  • Select appropriate anti-slip flooring materials for high-traffic areas, especially stairwells, hallways and entrances 

2. Use digital signage to share Visual Safety Aids & emergency alerts 

Whether it's a natural disaster, active shooter situation or any other life-threatening scenario, it's absolutely critical to provide clear communication and simple directions to protect your employees, prevent them from panicking and make sure they get out safely. 

In emergency situations, digital signage can save lives. Unlike static posters, digital displays can instantly warn or notify people of an emergency in real-time, even in areas where mobile phones and other electronic devices aren't allowed. 

Dramatic, easy-to-read digital text alerts can help spread emergency alerts in a simple, digestible format. This is especially important to non-native language speakers or people who are deaf or hard of hearing. 

In addition, you can use digital signage to post workplace safety tips, recognize employees who have demonstrated outstanding safety awareness or share updated rules and regulations. 

Design Considerations 

  • Install a digital signage system with a secure platform and a wide range of connectivity options like Crestron DigitalMedia to send emergency alerts anywhere. 
  • Create digital displays to visually communicate safety procedures, protocols and other emergency information in real-time. 
  • Use interactive wayfinding to show emergency evacuation routes so employees and other occupants can exit the premises safely. 

3. rethink the employee Restroom Experience

Design for Employee Health and Safety_3

A dirty, unkempt workplace bathroom is more than a nuisance or a potential health hazard. It's a very obvious sign to your guests and employees that you don't care about their health or safety. 

According to research from Kimberly-Clark, the average American employee uses the restroom three to four times per day. The same study also indicated that 71 percent of office workers view the restroom as a reflection of management. 

The restroom offers a level of privacy that doesn't necessarily exist anywhere else in the office. An improved (and safer) restroom experience can play a critical role in strengthening workplace culture and influencing holistic wellbeing

To maintain a safe and hygienic workplace, all employees need access to an ample number of restrooms. OSHA requires that worksites with up to 15 employees offer one water closet and one additional fixture for every 40 employees beyond that. 

On top of that, organizations may want to opt for touch-free paper towel dispensers over electronic hand dryers. Paper towel dispensers can actually help people dry their hands faster, remove bacteria and cause less contamination than hand dryers do.  

Design Considerations

  • Install touchless paper towel, soap and toilet paper dispensers in a stainless-steel finish to promote proper hygiene, provide aesthetic appeal and reduce the spread of germs
  • Invest in high-quality hand sanitizer, air fresheners, facial tissues, toilet seat covers, face wipes, hand wipes and other essential restroom necessities 
  • Design all workplace washrooms according to OSHA and ADA restroom requirements

4. Prepare a first aid kit and emergency medical plan

Design for Employee Health and Safety

When accidents happen at work, no tool is more valuable than a first aid kit. Regardless of the industry you work in, it's absolutely essential to build a reliable first aid kit to protect yourself, your employees and your customers. 

OSHA requires that small work sites, including offices, should have a well-stocked and easily accessible first aid kit on hand for all workers. However, more than one kit is often necessary for workspaces with at least four employees

Every first aid kit should include gauze pads, band-aids, gauze roller bandages, triangular bandages, wound cleaning supplies, scissors, tweezers, adhesive tape, latex gloves, resuscitation equipment, two elastic wraps, a splint and a blanket. 

It's also strongly recommended to have twice the amount of supplies on hand, in two different (and easy-to-access) locations, as a backup. Once a month, a designated individual should check to see if any supplies need replaced or restocked. 

Implementing an emergency medical plan should also be a top priority. All office personnel should be given specific training on where first aid supplies are located, as well as how to properly assess and respond to medical situations. 

Design Considerations

  • Build or buy a pre-stocked first aid kit with all supplies required by OSHA, as well as any other supplies specific to your business 
  • Invest in a defibrillator like ZOLL AED Plus to support rescuers with real-time audio and visual feedback on compression rate and depth to perform high-quality CPR 

5. Reimagine the role of the post-pandemic workplace

Design for Health and Safety

For people to feel comfortable returning to the office in a post-COVID world, they need to both be safe and feel safe at work. They want to know their workplaces are safe and trust their employers are doing everything possible to protect them before returning.

As organizations plan their return-to-work strategy, they need to prioritize mitigating the spread of disease. This holistic safety strategy requires well-documented behavioral protocols, such as mask-wearing, sanitation and social distancing. 

To be inclusive, companies will also need to consider everyone's safety. They may even want to embrace a hybrid work-from-home strategy or offer a broad ecosystem of spaces within the office to give people control over where, when and how they work.

Even after a vaccine becomes widely available, business leaders will need to address all these new safety elements, so they can be better prepared for any future crises and create a safe, inspiring environment where people want to work.

Design Considerations

  • Reconfigure desks to reduce face-to-face exposure when there are no barriers
  • Find hard or fabric barriers that are scientifically proven to stop or deflect COVID-19
  • Offer sanitation stations with cleaning wipes and sanitizer to promote personal hygiene
  • Implement hands-free devices like sensor-based faucets, door opening sensors and room scheduling systems wherever possible
  • Opt for pure or engineered materials that allow for easy cleaning and disinfection 

6. Clean the Air with Commercial Air Filtration Systems 

Design for Health and Safety

On average, people spend 90 percent of their time indoors and nine hours every day sharing space with others. Unfortunately, public indoor spaces like schools and offices are breeding grounds for airborne viruses, allergens, chemicals and odors. 

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has increased the urgency to protect ourselves, each other and the air we breathe. Bad air can negatively impact a business's bottom line and a business's most important asset: its people

In the post-pandemic workplace, business leaders should install commercial-grade air purification systems to clean, purify and re-energize their indoor air. Air purifiers also fight against airborne viruses, bacteria, gases, mold and fungi. 

Improved air quality can help people breathe easier since it removes 99.97 percent of harmful germs, allergens and particles. It can also increase employee engagement, improve employee loyalty and reduce absenteeism due to illness.

Design Considerations

  • Install a commercial-grade air purifier like AeraMax to destroy pollutants, keep employees healthy and help the workplace feel more clean, pure and energized 

Why is it important to design for employee health and safety? 

When you disregard designing for workplace safety, you put your employees at risk of developing long-term injuries or diseases. These factors can threaten their livelihood and their quality of life for years to come. 

A safe, comfortable work environment is essential for the health, wellbeing and safety of its employees. When companies design for employee safety, they send a message to their employees that they care. 

As a result, people are less likely to take time off or leave to go work elsewhere. They'll be happier, more productive and inspired to generate new ideas that drive company growth and innovation.

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Andrew Stephens

Written by Andrew Stephens