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[With Video] 5 ways to design a transit maintenance facility that’s also a people place

April 30, 2019

By Jaimie Handscomb

It’s possible to create a maintenance building that prioritizes the well-being of workers and becomes a part of the community

When you picture a large transit maintenance and operations facility, you might imagine a space that’s industrial, cold, and uninviting, with insufficient indoor air circulation and poor levels of employee comfort. That doesn’t sound like an appealing work environment, does it?

But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can design an industrial building that puts people first.

My team and I took this approach while designing the Whitby Rail Maintenance Facility (WRMF), a new 500,000-square-foot GO Transit facility in Whitby, Ontario. On May 4, 2019, members of the community are invited to see the facility for themselves.

When it’s time to design an industrial facility like this one, there are several things you can do to prioritize the health and wellness of workers. It’s possible to create a bright, spacious atmosphere that keeps workers safe while giving them a pleasant place to work.

Here are my five tips for creating the maintenance facility of the future—a building that functions as a people place, too. 

If you’re looking to establish a healthy work environment, implement access to daylight in your design.

1. Natural light = happier employees

Natural light makes people happier, and it leads to better sleep, improved vision, increased productivity, and a boost in Vitamin D. If you’re looking to establish a healthy work environment, implement access to daylight in your design.

For WRMF, our design incorporates skylights, daylight harvesting, and clerestory windows to ensure consistent natural light inside the facility. Skylights allow sunlight through the roof, and vertical clerestory windows bring in daylight towards the top of the building, which keeps the building light and bright. Our daylight harvesting systems also dims the electric lighting based on the amount of daylight available, which helps to save energy.

How can you implement daylighting in your facility design? 

2. Health and wellness is critical

Employee health and wellness on the job are important. What features keep workers feeling their best? Prioritizing a healthy work environment will improve productivity while energizing employees. If possible, include bicycle parking, giving workers the opportunity for a healthy, environmentally-friendly commute.

At WRMF, we incorporated bike parking, an employee fitness area, modern locker rooms, and extensive lunchrooms where workers can enjoy their downtime. We also considered ergonomics: Employees can access the heavy cables and hoses that are hung on the walls or on reels in working areas—as opposed to placing them in cabinets or storage areas, where workers would have to carry these heavy pieces of equipment to the trains.

Our design for Whitby Rail Maintenance Facility considered ergonomics, as you can see by the hoses hung up near the maintenance pits. Employees don’t have to lug the hoses over from a cabinet or storage area.

3. Safety is a top priority

Safety should be paramount in facility design. What can you do to establish the safest possible work environment? Follow all codes and anticipate potential hazards. Make sure to consider pedestrian traffic within your facility and around equipment.

At WRMF, we’ve made it safe for the employees working in maintenance pits by implementing real-time air monitoring for contaminates, which minimizes the risk of fire hazards and health issues related to indoor air quality. We also reduced the amount of noise transmitted throughout the spaces by using sound reduction design principals with regards to materials used, installation practices, and equipment selections.

4. Uplifting atmosphere by use of color

Brighten the facility by incorporating color or graphics. Perhaps a local artist can paint your lunchroom walls with images of nearby significant landmarks or wildlife. Make a visually interesting space by ensuring a balance of neutrals and accent colors.

To create an uplifting atmosphere at WRMF, we kept the paint colors light, so workers don’t feel like they’re in an industrial space. The offices, meeting areas, and lunchrooms feature bright colors, such as soothing shades of green.

The new Whitby Rail Maintenance Facility in Whitby, Ontario.

5. Focus on the environment

Designing a people-focused facility doesn’t just mean taking care of workers. It also involves looking out for the wider community. How does your building’s operation affect nearby residents and the environment?

At WRMF, we incorporated stormwater management, which creates ponds and green spaces. The facility captures rain water and reuses it for vehicle washing and toilet flushing. We are also monitoring and controlling the contaminates removed from the trains to minimize the impact to the municipal water treatment facilities in Durham Region. As a bonus, the facility’s outdoor green spaces give workers a place to lunch, meet, or just relax in a park-like area.

A welcome part of the community

Some people don’t like having large maintenance facilities in their neighborhood, because of the perceived environmental impacts. But it’s possible to create a sustainable, people-friendly facility that feels like it’s part of the community, rather than a necessary requirement.

I hope you’ve found my advice valuable. If you live near the Whitby Rail Maintenance Facility, I look forward to meeting you at Doors Open Whitby on May 4.

  • Jaimie Handscomb

    Jaimie is a recognized leader in mechanical engineering design, analysis, and management of industrial and manufacturing facilities.

    Contact Jaimie
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