It was the moment the Forklift head caught the racking beam and Johnny watched the pallet and its contents cascade down onto the floor that he knew the pint in the pub at lunch time was a bad idea.
Of course you wouldn’t drive a Forklift whilst drunk. We all know that would be a particularly stupid idea.
Thankfully as an industry we’ve spent years, decades even; controlling, enforcing, influencing and improving warehouse safety levels. As a result Johnny is never likely to be in that position and it’s a situation none of us would permit in our warehouses.
What then do warehouse roof lights and glazing panels have to do with warehouse safety and productivity and why the mention of Johnny?
You may not be aware of it, but your body has a rhythm. I’m not referring to your questionable dancefloor gyrations but the natural circadian rhythm which dictates your body clock. The subtle neuro programming that exists in your brain to respond to light and dark and makes us sleep at night and wake during the day.
Our eyes contain some nattily named sensors called Intrinsically Photosensitive Retinal Ganglion Cells. In plain English these are an evolutionary miracle that allow us to see in the dark. They respond to the light level in the space around us even when we are asleep and are key to creating and managing our body clocks. They respond primarily to Blue Light, the high intensity UV light emitted by the Sun (and LED screens which is why we are discouraged from using our Phones and Watching TV late into the evening). Our brains neuro programming then does its magic and uses this information and light exposure to create a rhythm to our days. Controlling our sleep pattern and the points in the day when we feel most productive.
Traditionally our circadian rhythm means we are firing on all cylinders from about 9am to 3pm. Then we have a bit of a lull late afternoon before getting back on it in the evening until 9pm. But to create that rhythm it requires our bodies to have the data to process to develop it. It goes all the way back to our concept of prehistory and man waking and sleeping with the daylight pattern.
In the UK only around 1% of the population now work in Agriculture or Fishing – industries which traditionally mean working outside. Our economy is dominated by the Service Sector and we spend more time hiding inside buildings with artificially controlled LUX levels.
Most of us will be aware of the seismic shift in retail habits in the past decade, none more so than the courier driver as he comes trudging up the path with yet another package from the smiley faced online giant. But the storing, processing, picking and packing of these goods needs more and bigger warehouses, often with huge numbers of workers working all day and night to meet our exuberant consumer hedonism. Referred to, rather unfairly I might add, by the Guardian newspaper as the ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ of the UK, these huge facilities are the new norm in the world of Supply Chain and Logistics. Employing huge numbers of people, most spending their working lives inside these huge boxes of steel and concrete.
Allowing natural daylight into these spaces hasn’t always been a priority. It can create other challenges like Solar Gain and Condensation. But there is growing evidence when it is introduced it gives real, meaningful benefits. Evidence that outweighs the challenges and directly impacts productivity, the Holy Grail of business, getting more for less.
As employers focus, at long last, on improving their ESG (that’s Environment, Social and Governance) metrics, there is increasingly attention being paid, not just to how many people we employ and how much we pay them; but the values with which we do business. That means a focus on health and wellbeing, termed by our North American cousins as ‘Wellness’. Buildings are now even being accredited for their ‘Well’ rating. Simply put are they healthy to work in and do they support us to live healthier lives.
Daylight is one of the things we need in order to survive. Its estimated that 6-8% of people in Europe struggle with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). An overwhelming desire to be grumpy when its raining for prolonged periods. If we recognise the impact that a wet and grey winter has on our mental health are we really aware of what it does to our mental health when working inside in poor lighting or even with no daylight at all?
As a parent to two boys under the age of 3, I know first hand the disabling influence a state of near permanent state of tiredness can induce. Not content with my anecdotal evidence however, the BMJ (that’s the British Medical Journal – Volume 57 Issue 10 to be precise) ran the results of a study into the cognitive impairment and motor performance caused by sleep deprivation. To relate its findings it compared a sample of people who were sleep deprived with those who had been drinking alcohol.
The conclusion was that at the end of a 17-19 hour working day, the same as an NHS double shift, your cognitive (that’s basically your brains ability to think, reason and process information) was the same as someone with a 0.05 Blood Alcohol Content. A quick internet search tells me that drinking 1.5 pints of beer or having a large 250ml glass of wine within an hour would have the same effect. It also turns out that the Australian drink drive limit is set at 0.05 BAC.
The report goes on to say that long term sleep deprivation can be cumulative and that a repeated pattern of 17-19 hour work days over several days showed a cognitive impairment equal to a 0.1 BAC – or the same as having had a session in the pub (and well over the UK drink driving limit at 0.08 BAC). We aren’t just talking about your brain performance after a couple of beers here though. We are talking about your ability to function, reason and think at all times. Tiredness gives a direct impact on our performance until we take action and time to recover our sleep pattern. In other words, if you are repetitively tired your performance level could be the same as someone that’s been drinking. You wouldn’t drive a forklift drunk. We all know that would be a particularly stupid idea.
In conclusion; your circadian rhythm is the control and influence for our sleep pattern. It dictates the points during the day that we are productive, and it can influence our mental health. We have evidence it is influenced by our exposure to light, specifically high intensity light, best provided by access to sunlight and natural daylight. Research in the US using the PSQI (Pittsburg Sleep Quality Index) showed a 173% increase in exposure to high intensity lighting levels within a workplace resulted in employees obtaining 46 minutes more sleep per night.
As occupiers, owners and developers of real estate it is both in our gift and our responsibility to look after our best asset – our people. Surely, we should take responsibility for creating better more intense sleep for our colleagues if we know it helps their cognitive performance. That performance improvement is our gain as well.