How you layout your work area will determine the safety and efficiency of your people. The layout and design of a workspace will determine the flow of people, materials, and equipment.
Layout planning is deciding on the best and most efficient arrangement of all physical resources that will need space in a work area or a facility. It can include desks, work centres, cabinets, equipment, and types of machinery. Layout planning is not only done when a new work area or facility is designed, it is also necessary when there is a change in the needs or placement of resources. A new machine may be brought in, or an existing machine may need to be transferred. A change in operational procedure may also entail new layout planning.
The arrangement of the equipment and other resources in a facility can significantly affect the efficiency and productivity of any business. Poor design can be costly, as it can result in wasted time, energy, and effort. Worse, a poor layout can significantly increase the hazards in a work area.
A 2014 by Worksafe Australia showed that 63 out of 523 worker fatalities were caused by the unsafe design of a work area or a facility, or design-related factors. An additional 125 of these accidents were considered to potentially be design-related, such as incidents where the circumstances suggested that the accident would have been preventable if a safe design or an existing technology had been implemented.
The perfect design layout varies by industry. It will depend on the processes involved, and the purpose of the facility. Each will have their own unique needs and requirement.
Design with safety as your top priority.
The layout and design of your work area must incorporate safety principles, to mitigate the risk of injury and fatalities. A safe design begins at the early development of a structure or a work area and must be integrated into every decision making steps such as:
- Design and intended purpose of the work area.
- Materials that will be used.
- Choice of construction methods and maintenance operation.
- Standards and codes that must be complied with.
From the pre-design stage to concept development, design options, design synthesis, through to completion, safe design must be incorporated in every step. A designer must know how to include safe design in every design phase effectively.
Safe design has many benefits, for both the employer and the employees.
- Preventing work-related injuries and illnesses.
- Improving the efficiency and usability of the work area and the facility.
- Improving the productivity of the workers.
- Reducing costs.
- Improving management of production, as well as operational costs.
- Complying with laws.
- Promoting innovative ways of thinking.
Costs due to unsafe design can be significant, and may include:
- Retrofitting and redesign of a hazardous work area.
- Compensation for injured workers.
- Insurance levies.
- Negligence claims.
Design with ergonomics in mind.
Ergonomics refers to the study of how furniture and equipment can be set up and arranged in a way that ensures people work in efficiently and comfortably. A well-designed work area must give the worker an opportunity to choose from comfortable and well-balanced working positions and must allow the worker to change positions frequently.
A work area must incorporate working tables and benches, which can be adjusted to the preference and comfort of the user. This ensures that the worker can carry out their tasks in a well-balanced position. The working height must especially be adjustable, as every worker is different.
A seat must be provided for the workers so they can do their tasks in either sitting or standing position. The height of the seat must be so that it places the worker at a height that suits the individual and the tasks they are performing.
An ergonomic work area must allow frequent changes of position to reduce muscle strain and fatigue. It must also allow the workers to have a suitable place to take a break.
Design with sufficient space around the work area.
When you design the layout of your work area, you must always remember the importance of adequate space. Adequate and comfortable space enables your worker to work and operate effectively. A tidy work area, with sufficient space, reduces the risk of injuries that result from accidentals slips and falls. Enough workspace allows your workers to move about freely as needed, and evacuate immediately in case of emergencies.
There are three types of work spaces that every designer must consider:
- Primary space – This includes space for lift lobbies, amenities, meeting rooms, and other areas.
- Secondary space – This includes space for storage and corridors.
- Tertiary space – This includes space for workstations that will accommodate a working desk, chair, filing cabinets, drawers, and other paraphernalia.
The layout of the work area should have sufficient and clear space between furniture and fixtures so that your workers can move freely and safely. Spaces for passages, aisles, and access to other rooms and areas must also be considered.
When laying out a work space, here are some of the factors that will help you determine the space needed in your work areas:
- The physical movement and actions that come with the job or task.
- The need to move around the area when working
- If the tasks to be performed will require sitting or standing positions, or both.
- Access to workstations and other areas.
- The equipment and machinery that will be used, and the personal protective equipment that must be worn by the workers to perform their jobs.
- If work involving the use of tools will require an increase in space.
- Environmental factors in work such as noise or heat.
Design with sufficient lighting considered.
Sufficient lighting must be provided in the work area. It can be from a natural or artificial light source. Adequate lighting allows for productive and safe movement around the workplace. It also allows workers to be efficient in their job, without straining their eyes to see properly.
Part of setting up a work space is to determine the proper placement of lighting fixtures and the type of lighting fixtures that must be installed. During this phase, the following must be considered:
- Nature of the work in the facility.
- Nature of the risks and hazards present in the workplace.
- Nature of the work environment.
- Glare levels in certain areas.
Additional light may be needed for high-risk places, such as crossing points and passageways for transport.
Design with health in mind.
A workplace must be properly ventilated, with fresh air coming in from the outside. The place must be supplied with sufficient airflow . Work processes that release harmful chemicals into the air require additional means to remove these chemicals from the source.
A place that has good air quality and ventilation provides the workers with a comfortable environment. It also prevents the build-up of excessive odours and reduces contaminants that may come from related work activities.
If you are designing for manufacturing plants, workers’ workstations and desks must be shielded or positioned in such a way that the noise generated by the machines and equipment will not be a distraction. Loud, background noise from processing plants does not only distract workers, it can be an occupational hazard that can affect the health of your workers when they are exposed to them for long hours. A study shows that exposure to industrial noise pollution can result in an increase in blood pressure, fatigue, vertigo, stress, headaches, speech problems, and anxiety among many others health issues.
Access to Facilities
When designing the layout for a work area, the designer must consider that everyone must have access to facilities and amenities. This includes people with special needs and disabilities. Facilities and amenities should be adequately and safely distanced from potentially dangerous areas. The means of access to these facilities and amenities must be safe and must be usable by both day and night shifts.
Access to entryways and exits must be clear.
The designer of the layout of a work area must ensure that the entrance and exits to the facility must be clear of obstructions, well lit, signposted and clearly marked, and slip-resistant for the safety of every worker. If the facility uses mobile equipment, like trucks and forklifts, separate entrances and exits must be provided to ensure worker safety.
Emergency exits must also be clear of any obstacle, must be accessible to your employees, must be well-lit, and signposted properly.
Identify work-related hazards in the facility.
To be able to incorporate safety measures to your layout and design planning effectively, you must be able to identify and assess the risks and hazards in the facility or work area. Here are the steps in identifying work-related hazards in any facilities.
1. Identify existing and possible hazards.
This step involves finding situations that can potentially harm both workers and other physical resources in the facility. The designer must be able to look and analyse into the following aspects:
- Physical work environment
- Materials, equipment, and chemicals used
- How tasks are performed
- Work design and management
2. Assess the possible risks in the workplace.
This step involves considering what could happen to a worker that is exposed to the hazards that you have identified. Risk assessment also involves an assessment of the likelihood of exposure to the recognised hazards happening in the workplace. Once the possible risks are identified and their severity is assessed, it is time to implement actions to control and mitigate the risks.
3. Control and mitigate risks.
Eliminating risks is the most critical step in managing the hazards and risks present in a work environment. Eliminating risks is often not possible, minimising the risk as much as possible is the next best thing.
There are many options and ways to control risks. In making the decision to implement control measures, it is essential to discuss and consult with workers, as they are the ones who will be significantly affected by any changes. Their experience and expertise will help you choose the right control measures for the workplace. Control measures can include administrative controls, personal protective equipment, and safety barriers. You can also mitigate risks by employing safe and compliant layout designs for the facility.
Promote a smooth material and equipment flow.
The layout of your facility should promote smooth material and equipment movement. The distance needed to move materials between places should be minimised as much as possible. Storage of materials must also be considered in the layout design. They must be strategically placed in such a way that their location reduces redundant material handling.
Encourage social interaction between workers.
Opportunities for more social interactions between employees actually boosts employee morale in the workplace. Desks and workstations should be positioned to allow for effective and quick communication between employees. Visual obstacles and background noise should be minimised.
Allocate areas where your workers can take a break to recover from rigorous work demands. Break rooms and kitchens should be located near workstations, where employees can relax and socialise for a while. These break rooms should be easily accessible, quiet, well lighted, and furnished with chairs and tables.
Consider future expansions.
Facilities must be designed in a way that will allow for any future expansions or modifications, to meet changing and growing business needs. Growing production demand is one of the most common reasons for facility expansion. As your business grows, there is always the possibility of an expansion, where a redesign will be necessary. Good layout design is flexible, and will require minimal work disruption should there be changes in the future.
Secure your work area with Verge Safety Barriers
Add protection and risk control measures in your work area. Verge Safety Barriers offer a wide range of safety barriers, warehouse barriers, traffic barriers, forklift safety barriers, and other products that provide safety solutions for your workplace. We know that accidents can happen at any time, and we at Verge Safety Barriers take your workers’ safety seriously.
Our handrails and safety barriers provide safe passageways for your workers. Create a safe working environment with our fully modular products. Our products come with a 5-year warranty, are OH&S compliant, and are easy to install. Contact us, and let us show you how we can make your facility safe for your employees.