News Brief

Wellness in the Warehouse: A Prototype for Safety and Health

Behind every online order, there are people. A new study explores ways to ensure they have safe and supportive workplaces.

Have you ever thought about the chain of events you initiate every time you click “buy now” in the comfort of your home or office?

Several human beings leap into service to fulfill your order: pickers, packers, long-haul truckers, loaders, sorters, and delivery drivers. And the warehouses and distribution centers where most of them work are designed to protect goods—not people.

an architectural drawing labeled “transportation lounge” with 15 numbered strategies. these include private, accessible bathrooms, secure lockers, and spaces where people can rest or even sleep.

A transportation lounge can support people who drive for a living with amenities like showers, beds, internet access, and nutritious food.

Image: Courtesy of KSS Architects and the NAIOP Research Foundation
No wonder there’s a workforce shortage. Designing for Wellness in Distribution Centers offers a prototype for safer and healthier indoor spaces. Commissioned by the Commercial Real Estate Development Association (NAIOP), the report examines wellness objectives and provides design recommendations that center around employee health and wellness—and improve retention and recruitment rates.

“Even before the pandemic and subsequent Great Resignation, workers were demanding economic justice with higher pay and better conditions, especially improved benefits and less dangerous/uncomfortable working conditions,” writes Brian Radin for Supply & Demand Chain Executive. Radin notes the especially high turnover rates among people “performing repetitive or intense physical work in a cold storage unit with sub-zero temperatures” or in a “warehouse lacking air conditioning.”

Rather than focusing on the design of new buildings, the authors, from KSS Architects and Branch Pattern, present “solutions that can be readily implemented to transform distribution centers into better places for work.”

Drawing on elements of both WELL and Fitwel, the authors identify eight health and safety issues—everything from excessive noise to real-time productivity monitoring to physically demanding tasks and feelings of isolation. They then suggest solutions, including comfort (acoustic, thermal, and visual), air quality, and improved access to services like childcare and medical offices.

Specific design recommendations concern several space categories:

  • Site context and layout—Strategies encompass rural, suburban, and urban locations and include access to services, development of biophilic public spaces, and connections to nearby neighborhoods.
  • Shell building and entries—Some areas of focus include pedestrian safety, radiant heating and cooling, envelope upgrades, and enhanced programming to provide human-scale entryways and vital services.
  • Break spaces—Recommendations for small, medium, and large break areas center on community building and relief from physical and mental stresses.
  • Transportation lounges—These areas meet the needs of both long-haul and delivery drivers; the prototype supplies them with areas to gather with others, access the internet, conduct private phone calls, enjoy outdoor green space, or even just sleep.
  • Workstations—These “localized interventions” for people who pick, pack, and sort (often near noisy and heat-generating automation equipment) include individual thermal control, quality task lighting, and ergonomic improvements.

To better understand typical workplace conditions and employees’ needs, the authors visited sites and interviewed the people who work there. They call on “developers, designers, and occupiers” to replicate this effort. Only then can they shift the current paradigm—which focuses almost exclusively on satisfying customers who place online orders—to a new framework that also nurtures the physical and mental health of the people who fulfill those orders.

More on workplace wellness

WELL Equity Rating Targets Health Disparities

How to Access the Full Power of Biophilia

Lighting Design for Health and Sustainability: A Guide for Architects

For more information:



Published September 11, 2023

Melton, P. (2023, August 29). Wellness in the Warehouse: A Prototype for Safety and Health . Retrieved from

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