Putting Health Back into Health and Safety

Here in Aotearoa, our guiding Health and Safety legislation defines health as being both physical and mental.

When you think of Health and Safety, there are a set of inevitable things that come to mind; hard hats, hi-vis, and incident reports. This protects our safety, but what about our health?

For years employers have put the focus on safety, rather than looking at how employee health can be enhanced more broadly in the workplace – most pertinently, through design.

On average, we spend around 40 hours a week at work. That means that over a year, over a quarter of our time is spent in our workplaces. It goes without saying that these spaces have a huge role in shaping our physical and mental health.

Today, industry leaders are recognizing the power of experiential design in workplaces. Research has shown that attentiveness to workplace design, such light, temperature and acoustic qualities can have an immeasurable role enhancing wellness and work culture, and thus productivity and job satisfaction.

But how does well-being come into Health and Safety? Here in Aotearoa, our guiding Health and Safety legislation defines health as being both physical and mental. This means that employers need to have systems in place for protecting both physical and mental risks of their workers. In effect, employers must manage the risks that failing design can incur in the mental health of their employees, in the same way they would assess physical risks.

But rarely do our workplaces feel as though they function to enhance our resilience, or our well being. This is part of the problem: we must see well-being as being an intrinsic part of any effective Health and Safety regime. Industry leaders have begun to make this shift through experiential design.

There are three ways you can enhance your well being in your workplace through design. Putting an emphasis on light, acoustics and temperature can change the sensory environment of your workplace.


Light is central to any design with well being in mind. Natural light in particular has an incredible effect on our body and mind, which cannot be underestimated. In comparison with electrical light, natural light has an ability has a range of advantages over electric light, including its variability and efficiency, and creating an awareness and link to the outside conditions, allowing us to ‘take notice’. Furthermore, the benefits to physical health are now well understood and can counteract seasonally affective disorder. Because of this, designing of workplaces must enhance the functional use of and access to natural light.


Like light, temperature has a sensory effect on the body. The body senses the thermal environment not just in terms of the air temperature, but through radiant conditions such as sunlight, through air movement like natural ventilation, and the conduction of heat through different surface materials. Each of these aspects provides an interesting opportunity for design to create both comfortable and stimulating conditions which can utilize natural conditions to improve energy efficiency.


As with other aspects of environmental design acoustic conditions can be used to create opportunities to support user needs and preferences. Although noise can cause stress, acoustic contact with natural and neighborhood noise can be especially valuable in creating and enhancing sense of place and time.


These general  rules of thumb in improving the environmental quality of your workplace through light, acoustics and temperature are often overlooked in favor of flashy furnishings in interior design. Yet, attentiveness to the sensory experiences has shown to have an immeasurable power in improving the productivity, work satisfaction and well being of inhabitants.

Author: BOON