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The WELL Health-Safety Seal: Certifying Safe Spaces Against COVID-19

The WELL Building Standard focuses on creating indoor spaces that promote health and wellbeing, and is managed by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). In 2020, the IWBI developed the WELL Health-Safety Seal, as a way to certify indoor spaces that use proven measures against COVID-19. The seal can be described as a more compact version of their full building certification, created as a response to the pandemic.

Getting the WELL certification for a building follows a process very similar to LEED, where the project must meet a minimum number of requirements in several performance categories, called concepts. The second version of WELL was launched in 2020, and it covers 10 concepts: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Movement, Thermal Comfort, Sound, Materials, Mind and Community.

Many design concepts used in the WELL Building Standard are useful for COVID-19 prevention. The IWBI created the Task Force on COVID-19 in 2020, with more than 600 experts from multiple sectors: healthcare, architecture, engineering, real estate, academia, government, etc. The result of their work was the WELL Health-Safety Rating, which was launched in July 2020:

  • The rating is based on the WELL Building Standard, but it focuses on specific measures that help prevent COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
  • The full version of the WELL certification requires at least 50 points across the 10 performance categories, in addition to several preconditions. On the other hand, the WELL Health-Safety Rating has 22 features, and a building must meet 15 to get the seal.
  • When developing the rating system, the IWBI Task Force on COVID-19 followed guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In January 2021, the IWBI launched the “Look for the WELL Health-Safety Seal” campaign to raise awareness about their new rating system, and how it protects building occupants from COVID-19.  The campaign includes a video with the participation of Jennifer Lopez, Robert De Niro, Lady Gaga, Michael B. Jordan, Venus Williams, Wolfgang Puck, Deepak Chopra, and 17th US Surgeon General Richard Carmona. The video has been broadcast on TV, and is also being shared in digital channels and social media.

The WELL Health-Safety Rating can provide added value in mixed-use developments. When residents notice that business tenants are getting the seal, they can feel confident that the project has safe spaces against COVID-19.

How Can a Building Get the WELL Health-Safety Seal?

As mentioned above, the WELL Health-Safety Rating has 22 performance features, and your building must meet at least 15 to get approved. These features are divided into five performance categories:

  • Cleaning and sanitization procedures (5 features)
  • Emergency preparedness programs (5 features)
  • Health service resources (5 features)
  • Air and water quality management (5 features)
  • Stakeholder engagement and communication (2 features)

There is also an innovation category, where building owners can claim points towards the Health-Safety Rating by proposing their own design features, subject to approval. In addition, buildings can score an additional point towards the 15 required if they are certified under other rating systems approved by the IWBI, including LEED and BREEAM.

The following table summarizes the 22 features in the WELL Health-Safety Rating, classified by performance areas:

Performance AreaWELL Health-Safety Rating Features
Cleaning and Sanitization Procedures– Support handwashing
– Reduce surface contact
– Improve cleaning practices
– Select preferred cleaning products
– Reduce respiratory particle exposure
Emergency Preparedness Programs– Develop emergency preparedness plan
– Create business continuity plan
– Plan for health re-entry
– Provide emergency resources
– Bolster emergency resilience
Health Service Resources– Provide sick leave
– Provide health benefits
– Support mental health recovery
– Promote flu vaccines
– Promote a smoke-free environment
Air and Water Quality Management– Assess ventilation
– Assess and maintain air treatment systems
– Develop Legionella management plan
– Monitor air and water quality
– Manage mold and moisture
Stakeholder Engagement and Communication– Promote health and wellness
– Share food inspection information

*The specific requirements for each feature are provided in the WELL website.

Since its release in July 2020, many organizations have obtained the WELL Health-Safety Seal. These include JP Morgan Chase & Co, the  Empire State Realty Trust, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Lincoln Property Company, T-Mobile, SKANSKA and the American Savings Bank. The Health-Safety Rating is renewed annually, and is available for both new constructions and existing buildings. The rating system has a standard version, a small business version, and a high-volume multi-use version.

We spend 90% of our time indoors in modern society, and healthy indoor spaces are necessary to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The WELL Health-Safety Seal includes a QR code, which can be scanned by visitors to obtain detailed information on how the rating was achieved.

The Health-Safety Rating is based on accumulated experience and lessons from the WELL Building Standard, which has been used in more than 4,000 projects and 60 countries. The rating was designed to improve health and safety with a minimal investment of capital, by focusing on operations, maintenance and emergency plans.

Source International WELL Building Institute

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