Designing for gender inclusivity in industrial facilities
June 24, 2022
June 24, 2022
Designing more inclusive spaces in industrial facilities requires understanding the staff experience. Tomorrow’s washrooms will look very different.
Imagine a workplace where most of the staff have a large space for changing and getting cleaned up at the end of the day. But you and a few coworkers must use a converted janitor’s closet and wait to access a single shower. Does that sound uncomfortable, unwelcoming, perhaps not so great for morale and retention? Welcome to the outdated industrial facility washroom.
The current washroom situation in a typical industrial facility still has the hallmarks of industries—manufacturing, mining, maintenance, and others—that were once male-dominated. The typical facility has a sizeable men's washroom with banks of trough urinals, gang showers, and open lockers. The women’s facilities feature a very small washroom/shower/locker area. The latter is most likely an afterthought and often a converted janitor’s room, office, or break room.
In these older industrial facilities, staff support spaces like washrooms were designed to standards of the day or no standards at all. Entrance design and flow was likely not considered. Typical features such as gang showers, communal trough urinals, or urinals without privacy screens are common in staff areas at these facilities. They suggest an old school “boys club” atmosphere that does not reflect the changing gender makeup of these industries.
The typical design of staff wash/locker/shower facilities for industrial facilities provides space for a roughly 80% male and 30% female occupancy (110% capacity of total staff) as the percentage of female staff trends upward. Typically, designers plan male/female locker areas with a common wall. This allows for reallocation of lockers to the opposite gender in the future with the relocation of just one wall. This flexibility is welcome but does not go far enough and may not address the specific needs of “inclusive” design.
A business-as-usual approaches do not meet the needs of modern industries. Gender-inclusive design means we strive to design staff spaces in industrial facilities that accommodate everyone on staff. In light of the changing gender makeup in many industries and the need to recruit and retain workers, employers should look at the washroom/locker room as a place they can upgrade to modern standards.
When we start a new project and talk with the stakeholders about the preferences for the design of gender-inclusive washrooms, we tell our clients to be prepared for spirited and “honest” discussion.
The design of washrooms, locker rooms, and showers impacts staff at all levels of the organization—especially in an industrial setting, as showers and changing are part of the daily routine for many. Industrial facilities include maintenance facilities, operations centers, manufacturing, logistics centers, and more. Staff in these facilities is a mix of floor staff (unionized or not), field staff, supervisors, administrators, engineers, and office staff. Each has differing needs for washroom, changing, and showering.
A blanket approach to gender-inclusive design has shortfalls. The needs of teams at facilities in the industries mentioned above can vary greatly, and inclusive features must be included with an informed understanding of day-to-day operations.
We must consider how uniforms, personal protective equipment, climate, and staff roles on the job influence staff entry, exit, and use of these spaces. Designing for gender inclusivity goes further than single-stall washrooms. We must consider what people wear while they work, their changing requirements, and their expectations for privacy. Many corporations are modifying and adopting new standards, but there’s still room for operations and design teams to interpret the meaning of gender inclusive for each organization.
In these older industrial facilities, staff support spaces like washrooms were designed to standards of the day or no standards at all.
In our recent work, we have uncovered several best practices that recognize gender inclusivity in these industrial settings. Here are some ideas about designing washrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms:
In washrooms and staff spaces we must also consider user expectations for full visual and acoustic privacy. Designing each water closet as an enclosed private room has multiple impacts. We must consider mechanical, electrical, and plumbing services; lighting; acoustic masking; and daily cleaning and maintenance. The availability of suitable manufactured partitions is also critical.
As new mandates and requirements come into effect, gender-inclusive design for the industrial sector will change. Employers, staff, designers, and consultants need to adjust to new demands and expectations.
Smart design for washrooms in industrial facilities means considering the needs of everyone. This starts by speaking with and listening to employees to grasp their day-to-day experience. Their comfort, convenience, and health are just as important as the operational safety and efficiency of the facility and worth investing in.