If the working environment is designed consciously and according to plan, occupational safety can be clearly improved. A colour and material consultant working on the basis of scientific knowledge brings the needs of the company and its employees into line with the tasks of the various teams as part of an overall design concept, thus ensuring optimum accident prevention and an ergonomically optimal working environment. This allows concentrated and productive work and promotes the health and well-being of employees.
As great as the variety of hazards that threaten health in the workplace is, so broad is the range of possibilities for a paint and materials consultant to counter these hazards with the help of scientifically-based methods. The most obvious and plausible example to illustrate the preventive effect of colour is its use as a conspicuous warning sign. This is impressively illustrated by the orange glowing working clothes of construction workers on the motorway or the conspicuous marking of hidden steps on stairs.
But color can do much more. If materialisation and light are also included as safety-relevant elements, we can see how comprehensive the keyboard is, which the colour and material consultant can use to make the workplace safer. Visual accents can, for example, facilitate orientation in a workshop. Consistent colour coding enables employees and visitors to see at a glance where production takes place, where people are allowed to move and where material is to be unloaded. In this way, collisions are avoided and escape routes remain open at all times. Last but not least, the colour coding of emergency exits also belongs in this category.
A well thought-out color design can also better illustrate individual work steps and thus support the understanding of the entire process by coloring the environment in which these process steps take place differently. By relying on the symbolic effect inherent in colors – such as blue for cold or red for hot – employees can also be warned of the dangers of entering a certain area or touching a workpiece.
The associative signal effect emanating from colors is also used in a targeted manner. This is based on associations triggered by frequent experiences. Obviously all people – or at least significantly many – react to these colour signals, so that they are always applied in a partially internationally regulated way. Warnings, for example, are usually written in the attention-grabbing combination of black and yellow, while safety warnings are written in the internationally binding soothing green.
But not only the colour alone, but also the contrast achieved by different colours or materials or by suitable lighting can improve safety. Objects that need to be easily detected for a work step or that simply should not be knocked over should always stand out visually from their surroundings.
While these examples mentioned so far are probably familiar to most people, the synaesthetic effect of colours is not yet common knowledge. Various stresses that impair the senses at the workplace can be compensated or intensified subjectively by colour. Thus, workplace design can improve the employees’ ability to concentrate. This not only has a positive effect on work performance, but also reduces the risk of accidents, which in turn is relevant to safety. Interestingly, the synaesthetic effect of colours can be applied to all possible sensory influences: Be it to compensate for an intense roasting smell, to dampen a persistent dull production noise, to calm an environment in which hectic movements take place in the background, at extreme ambient temperatures or when the sense of touch is challenged by persistent moisture or dryness.
It is important to note that the use of colour to achieve the desired synaesthetic effect requires a great deal of experience and systematic preparation. The well-founded assessment of the needs of the employees concerned is always the starting point and basis for a serious colour and material consultant’s conceptual work.
A scientifically supported colour, light and material concept developed in good time can also make a major contribution to work ergonomics in new buildings and renovation projects. Glare-free and non-reflecting materials on floors in workspaces and corridors, for example, facilitate safe movement during operation. The light should also not cause irritating reflections on work surfaces.
But it is not only the immediate avoidance of accident risks that increases safety. Workplace design, which creates a pleasant and inspiring atmosphere, also leads to better performance, increases the ability to concentrate and thus indirectly reduces the risk of accidents. Too often, the needs of individual user groups are not taken into account when designing office workplaces.
Many companies consciously give themselves a technically oriented image, which is transported by cool materials such as steel, glass and concrete. Here, misunderstood modernity, which is not very humane, is lived out. In addition, not every office workplace has the same needs. A colour and material consultant who works on the basis of scientific findings uses the knowledge that colour and materials have an effect on the human psyche and can also trigger physiological processes such as the release of certain hormones. A colour over-stimulation can influence the respiratory and pulse frequency as well as the blood pressure.
The right degree of visual stimulation, which is adapted to the respective activities of a team, should therefore be striven for within the framework of comprehensive overall planning of the working environment. For concentrated, quiet work, for example, a more quiet and uninviting environment is recommended, while creative teams tend to perform best in a stimulating and inspiring environment.
If the employer provides his employees with an environment tailored to their individual needs, productivity does not only increase. The working climate also improves. Concentration increases and the risk of accidents decreases. Above all, however, employees enjoy working in a high-quality and exclusive environment, which has a positive effect on their motivation and general wellbeing. Illness-related absences can thus be reduced. In this sense, such a needoriented workplace design also serves occupational safety, provided that the term is not only understood as the prevention of accidents, but also as a comprehensive effort to offer people a workplace that is conducive to health and well-being.
Author: Martin Tanner
Published in: iza 5/10 Safety and Health: Health Protection