Healthy physical environment crucial to healthy workplace

A healthy physical environment is one pillar of a healthy workplace, as defined by the National Quality Institute. At work, our physical environment is made up of the buildings in which we work, the quality of the air we breathe, thermal comfort, lighting, exposure to daylight and views, noise, scents and exposure to chemicals.

Much of our physical environment at work is pre-determined by the building that we occupy. Few of us have the opportunity to work in new buildings designed with healthy workplace in mind. There are some areas we can improve in older buildings, such as the chemicals we use, how we ventilate and heat or cool them and the types of lighting we choose for retrofits. We can also implement policies, such as tobacco and scent free work spaces and anti-idling of vehicles near doors and air-intake valves.

The Sustainability department in Facilities and Engineering Services has worked to build awareness of the importance of a healthy physical environment and has made some improvements in these areas. In 2009, we phased out two of our more toxic cleaners and replaced them with non-toxic-certified, green cleaners. We stopped using herbicides on our urban grounds, which actually earned us a healthy workplace award from the Canadian Cancer Society.

We’ve also just launched an Energy Conservation Program which stresses the role of occupants in reducing energy and water consumption throughout our buildings.

We know that in the average commercial building, anywhere between 20 and 30 per cent of energy is wasted. We see evidence of this in our facilities with lights left on, taps and toilets leaking and an excessive amount of printing. In 2009, we spent over $11 million in utilities at the urban acute care centres and Parkridge alone. So, not only is this waste of energy harmful to the environment, and putting strain on our natural resources, it is also expensive. Energy conservation is the most cost-effective approach to minimizing this waste, and in our aging buildings, it is often the best (and sometimes the only) option we have to minimize waste.

With the construction of new buildings we have the best opportunities to create healthy workplaces. The Green Guide for Health Care and the LEED certification system both build a goal of a healthy physical environment into the design of new buildings. Energy efficiency is the cornerstone of both of these frameworks, but they also encourage the use of non-toxic paints and finishings, furniture and carpet. They award points to those facilities that provide adequate daylight and views for staff and patients, and encourage designers to give occupants control of their own thermal comfort and ventilation including individual thermostats and operable windows.

Capital Planning and Facilities and Engineering Services are gaining familiarity with these “green building” guidelines and are starting to incorporate them into both the design and operation of our spaces. We are also offering training sessions through the Energy Conservation Programs. Book us for your next staff meeting or function.
For more information check these resources:

Sustainability Department’s Energy Conservation Program: http://www.saskatoonhealthregion.ca/green/index.htm
Green Guide for Health Care: http://www.gghc.org/
LEED Canada: http://www.cagbc.org/leed/what/index.php

Conservation Corner is a regular feature of The Region Reporter written by Jocelyn Orb, Saskatoon Health Region’s Sustainability Coordinator.