Nfld. & Labrador·Access Denied

Inclusive workspace: Husky Energy shows off its universally designed offices

The company used universal design — creating an area that's usable by all, regardless of age, size, or ability — for its 100,000 square feet of office space at 351 Water Street.

Colour-coded floors, adjustable workstations, and right to light used to welcome all workers

Margaret Allan tells Thomas Rogers that Husky Energy takes great pride in its accessible office space. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

When Husky Energy was first planning its move into a new office building in downtown St. Johns, it made the decision to design a space that could be used by everyone.

The company availed of universal design — creating an area that's usable by all, regardless of age, size, or ability — for its 100,000 square feet of office space at 351 Water Street.

"We're very lucky. We had a new space to work within, so that makes a huge difference," said Margaret Allan, Husky Energy's manager of administration and regulatory affairs.

"You're starting with a kind of blank slate, so you have lots of opportunity to get things right."

Building tour

Husky welcomed CBC News and Thomas Rogers, who uses a wheelchair, for a tour of its accessible space.

Next to the elevator on the 11th floor, there's a turquoise colouring on the glass — and several other areas on that same floor have similarly coloured glass and furniture.

Husky Energy has different accent colours on different floors — like turquoise on the 11th floor — to make them easily distinguishable for people with visual difficulties. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

It's no accident — that's the defining colour for that level; part of its way-finding system.

"Every floor has a different colour, and for people with visual difficulties … the idea is that [it] says, 'We're on the 11th floor,'" Allan said. 

"So once you learn the colour codes, you know."

Allan said the company also has orange, blue and burgundy floors in the office building.

During his tour of the Husky Energy offices, Thomas Rogers tells Margaret Allan that the tables in the meeting room and boardroom are at a proper height for him. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Other accessibility-enhancing touches are lever door handles (easier to grip than round doorknobs) and automatic door openers — and beyond that lies open office space and work stations.

Rogers said tables in meeting and board rooms are at an appropriate height. 

Desk heights can also be adjusted by the individual at each work station.

Right to light

Allan said thought also went into how the desks and workstations are arranged on the floors.

The building has a panoramic view of the picturesque St. John's harbour, the downtown area, and the Narrows.

"Our designers and our architects followed the philosophy of 'right to light.' So the idea is we wanted to let as much outside light into the workspaces as possible," said Allan.

Margaret Allan says Husky Energy's work stations are aligned to maximize the view and the amount of light. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

"The work stations are aligned so that we maximize the view."

The meeting spaces are placed in the middle of the building floors, so that desks occupy the space near the windows.

A tale of 2 sinks

Rogers found a small problem when he checked out the kitchen area.

"I'm not at a comfortable angle to be able to rinse or wash my hands properly, because there is no way to get under the sink, because of the cabinets," he said.

Thomas Rogers, right, says this sink with an angled panel allows him to get close enough to wash his hands, while the other has cabinets in the way. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

But a coffee station did have the appropriate accommodation: a sink with an angled panel to cover the pipes.

"The same as I have at home," Rogers noted.

A for accessibility

After the tour, Rogers and Allan chatted about the design. Rogers said despite a few minor problems, he was very impressed.

"Overall, this building is perfect," he said. "I would not have an issue in this facility whatsoever."

Rogers said he appreciated the thought and care put into its construction.

"It was nice to see you take pride in the fact that you went out of your way to make your workspace accessible to any person of any ability to work for you," Rogers told Allan.

Overall, this building is perfect. I would not have an issue in this facility whatsoever.- Thomas Rogers

"A lot of places will just take the shortcut, and try to cut corners, or just not go the full mile on making their property accessible."

Allan said the company, which moved into the building three years ago, is proud of its inclusive workspace.

She said the landlords have also kept accessibility in mind, and pushed to have a Go Bus stop in front of the building.

Early planning is key

The key to creating such an inclusive workplace, Allan said, is to incorporate ideas early on in the planning phase.

"We've learned from stakeholder groups some of the things … about accessibility, and what's important in planning a space. And we continue to learn," she said.

"We continue to try to accommodate our own workforce and new employees. And as our workforce ages, there's going to be more accommodations that are required, so we need to be open to those ideas."

Stay tuned for ongoing coverage of accessibility issues and solutions this week online, on CBC Television's Here & Now, and on CBC Radio One. (CBC)


Jen White

CBC News

Jen White is a reporter and producer with CBC News in St. John's.

With files from Ramona Dearing