LEEDing the way with ergonomics

USGBC introduces new pilot credit to support occupant health, performance
Friday, June 1, 2012
By Aaron Miller

Each new building presents an opportunity to have a positive effect on the environment and the structure’s future occupants. A sustainably designed building that takes into consideration the work functions of its occupants can contribute to improved productivity, higher job satisfaction, reduced probability of error, improved recruitment and retention, and decreased risk factors for injury. Buildings that waste energy and resources and aren’t designed to facilitate work functions have higher operating costs and are likely to require renovations to meet occupant needs.

Over the past 15 years, there has been considerable focus within the design and construction industry on green and sustainable design practices. The Canada Green Building Council’s (CaGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building certification system rewards construction projects that incorporate design strategies that increase energy and resource use efficiency and lower indoor air pollutant emissions. Many organizations, including municipal, provincial and federal government bodies, have adopted the LEED certification system as a minimum standard for all new construction projects. Through various cost-benefit analyses, it has been found that buildings designed to meet LEED certification requirements are not significantly more expensive to construct than their non-green counterparts but they are significantly more efficient to operate.

Many reports published in recent years have indicated green buildings have higher occupancy rates, are of higher quality and have more on-site amenities (such as retail shops and exercise facilities) than non-green buildings. However, occupant satisfaction in LEED buildings remains mixed. The LEED rating system was originally designed as a tool for reducing waste and improving energy efficiency, water consumption, daylighting and ventilation. However, for a long time, LEED did not have an ergonomic component that would assess how a building affected its occupants and their performance within their workspace.

To address this gap, in March 2012, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) released the ergonomics pilot credit for all LEED design and construction rating systems. The CaGBC has yet to introduce a comparable pilot credit but in Canada and the United States, it’s possible to pursue an ergonomics credit under the innovation in design category.

According to the USGBC, the intent of the ergonomics pilot credit is to “promote healthy, comfortable and productive work by designing the workplace to accommodate its user.” Using many established ergonomics methods already in place at most organizations, including doing a task analysis to understand the work within the workplace and incorporating adjustable tools in the design for staff such as appropriate equipment and furnishings, teams applying for LEED certification from the USGBC can easily achieve this credit.

Using an ergonomic approach to green building design can enhance the collaborative design process for projects looking to achieve LEED certification and the ergonomics pilot credit. Understanding the intended building occupants, their future workflow and other requirements of the space will allow for architectural designs that reduce barriers to the completion of work tasks and can enhance employee satisfaction and performance.

For example, when the project team works with a representative group of future building occupants, rooms and workspaces can be designed to be the right size for the tasks to be completed in them and designed to include adjustable equipment and furnishings that support the processes to be completed in that space. This will assist with the design of the lighting and mechanical systems, making possible, in turn, to minimize temperature variations, reduce glare and ensure proper airflow. This is especially important in hospitals, laboratories, computer IT centres and other facilities containing specialized equipment. By minimizing mechanical and electrical system fluctuations, overall building system loading can be decreased, which will reduce operating costs.

An architectural design process that considers both ergonomics and green design principles promotes the creation of spaces and buildings that support occupant health and performance and have lower operational costs. In many cases, ergonomic and green design goals are entirely complementary. For example, the inclusion of courtyards and green roofs provides psychosocial and physical benefits for building occupants and these features also capture rainwater and reduce building energy consumption. Without knowledge of ergonomic principles, many opportunities for green design solutions can be missed or overlooked.

Aaron Miller is an ergonomic consultant based in Kelowna, B.C. He can be reached at [email protected].

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