Optimizing workplace design for Health: UA Institute on Place and Wellbeing at Greenbuild

November 07, 2017

TUCSON, Ariz. - The health of millions of office workers--and the cost of lost time due to workplace-related illnesses--may be positively impacted by research that will be presented by the University of Arizona Institute on Place and Wellbeing and the U.S. General Services Administration at the 2017 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, the world's largest conference and expo for design-related industry professionals.

The presentation will take place Thursday, Nov. 9, at 8 a.m. (EST) at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, 415 Summer St., Boston, Mass.

The University of Arizona Institute on Place and Wellbeing (UAIPW) has teamed up with the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to carry out research providing GSA the data needed to develop best practices and policies to optimize workplace design for health.

UAIPW Director Esther Sternberg, MD, and Research Associate Casey Lindberg, PhD, together with GSA's Kevin Kampschroer, director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Buildings, will discuss their findings on the effects of office workstation design and various indoor environmental quality factors on physiological stress, physical activity and sleep quality.

Their study, "Wellbuilt for Wellbeing," uses real-time wearable human health sensors, as well as real-time environmental sensors from Aclima, Inc., to monitor federal workers' heart activity, physical movement and sleep quality. Research and technology partner Aclima designed and deployed the sensor network to measure multiple characteristics of the indoor environment. The results of this multi-year study will help GSA develop guidance and best practices to design and operate buildings that promote occupant health and wellbeing.

"This research has the potential to affect the lives of millions of office workers and reduce the hundreds of billions of dollars lost each year in the United States due to illnesses linked to the work environment," said Dr. Sternberg, who also is director of research and professor with the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and the UA College of Medicine - Tucson. "People spend 90 percent of their time indoors, yet little is known about how different environmental conditions and designs affect human health and wellbeing, especially measurable physiological health outcomes. Fifty million U.S. workers spend almost 25 percent of their time in an office building and are at an increased risk of sedentary behavior, increased stress and poor sleep quality. This study will help design professionals partner with health professionals to create healthful spaces through data-driven design."

"Previous work on environmental conditions in the workplace concentrated on eliminating dangerous levels of certain gases and chemicals, a do-no-harm perspective," said Dr. Lindberg, who is on the faculty of the UA College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture. "Yet the workplace has the potential to do much more--to be a space that enables a person to thrive, not just survive."
UAIPW is at the leading edge of sensor-based design and health research, providing the information necessary to design such health and wellbeing office spaces. A joint venture of the UA Center for Integrative Medicine, UA College of Medicine - Tucson and UA College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, the UAIPW also links expertise with other UA entities, including the UA College of Science, UA Department of Psychology and UA Eller College of Management. UAIPW's highly interdisciplinary teams actualize the university's commitment to a vision of human health that fully encompasses the role of the built and natural environment in health, wellbeing and healing.

Often called the federal government's landlord, GSA operates an inventory of more than 370 million rentable square feet at more than 8,500 owned and leased locations. With this large portfolio, GSA is in a unique position to influence policy and best practices to optimize working conditions in both the public and private sectors.

University of Arizona Health Sciences

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