Taking the Stairs Instead: The impact of workplace design standards on health promotion strategies

Sarah Mcgann



Comprehensive health promotion in Western Australia has been conducted from the point of views of policy development, promotion, education and service delivery. Much of this recent work has been focused on supporting workplaces – but there has yet to be any real focus on the design of the actual physical workplace environment from a health promotion perspective.


This paper is aimed at highlighting the gap in health promotion knowledge by addressing how the disciplines of architecture and health promotion can work together to challenge the regulations that dictate design practice and ultimately bridge that gap for long-term change. The overarching aim is to undertake further evidenced-based research that will inform best practice in the planning and design of workplaces to reduce sedentary behaviour and increase opportunities for physical activity.


Within this wide objective this paper focuses in particular on the idea of stairs-versus-lift movement strategies within office buildings. By examining building design guidelines from a health promotion perspective we expose a central dichotomy, where health promotion posters say “Take the stairs instead” whereas the language of building design suggests that the lift is best. Results From a design point of view, the National Codes of Construction (NCC), formally known as the Building Codes of Australia (BCA), the essential technical regulation for all building design and construction, primarily addresses the concepts of ‘egress’ and ‘travel distance’ for escape in the event of fire, and building access in terms of universal access. Additionally, The Property Council of Australia’s Guide to Office Building Quality prioritises lift performance criteria along with the quality and experience of lift use as a major grading factor. There is no provision in either set of standards for staircase quality and experience.


The stairs, despite being promoted as better life choice for better health, is not promoted through these building codes nor, consequently, through the building design in actuality. It is proposed that health promotion strategies could be coupled with design-led movement strategies in workplace design so that the promotional language, such as “take the stairs instead”, is balanced by the design language of the building.

Full Text: PDF