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Is Yours a Healthy Office Building? It Should Pass These 5 Tests

Article September 14, 2020

Article

Detailed cleaning logs and contactless technologies – as well as support for employee sick days. All these are areas assessed by the new WELL Health & Safety Rating certificate.

The coronavirus pandemic has made health and security hot topics discussed by not only buildings’ tenants and users, but also real estate developers. For a number of firms, COVID-19 has already tested their readiness to face new health risks and revealed weaknesses to which they must respond.

And this is where the international WELL Building InstituteTM and its new WELL Health & Safety Rating certificate come in. The certificate guarantees that measures ensuring maximum health protection and safety for a given building’s users have been (or are being) introduced or implemented.

Visionary and Praga Studios are the only buildings in Prague, Czech Republic that have received the WELL certification for a healthy environment.

The WELL Health & Safety Rating ties into the WELL Certificate, an international certificate that assesses the quality of an office building’s internal environment from the standpoint of its users. So far, two Prague office buildings are the only ones in the Czech Republic to sport this award. They are Visionary in Holešovice and Praga Studios in Karlín.

The new WELL Health & Safety Rating is the work of 600 health specialists (virologists and epidemiologists), interior designers, and construction project managers. The rating assesses the following aspects of a given building:

  • Its cleaning and sanitary procedures
  • Its crisis readiness program
  • Its health services
  • Its air and water quality management
  • Its stakeholder involvement and communication

And what standards must a building meet in these areas to receive the WELL Health & Safety Rating?

1/ Cleaning and Sanitary Procedures

Many respiratory infections are droplet infections, and regular cleaning of surfaces, air purification, and hand-washing are key steps that effectively reduce the spread of viruses and bacteria. The SAR-CoV-2 virus, for example, remains in the air for 3 hours, and stays up to 72 hours on certain surfaces. When a building’s occupants have a way to wash their hands, wipe them on single-use wipes, and coat them in a disinfectant, this is one of the most effective ways to slow the spread of infectious diseases.

Recommendations: support hand-washing; use disinfectants that are safe for a building’s users; increase cleaning frequency and have detailed logs at hand for the cleaning of individual spaces; support contactless solutions within a building (e.g. instead of entry-door handles and elevator buttons, make doors openable using a phone app).

2/ Crisis Readiness Program

Define procedures enabling the protection of both people and property during any crisis/emergency situation. Alongside a description of possible risks, it should include procedures for ensuring the continued operation of the given company/property in these situations. It should also include a plan for users’ gradual return into the building’s once they are safe and healthy.

3/ Health Services

This section assesses desired behaviors by individuals that supports the health of a building’s co-occupants. It monitors, for example, whether given companies offer their employees sick days, health-oriented employee benefits (premium health care etc.), psychological or psychiatric aid in and after crisis situations, support for flu vaccination, and support for a smoke-free environment.

4/ Air and Water Quality Management

People spend a full 90 percent of their time indoors – in their homes, in schools, and at workplaces. Air and water cleanliness is thus important for their health, and the WELL Health & Safety Rating reflects this. A good HVAC (heating, ventilation, and cooling) system significantly reduces health problems among people in a given building, from respiratory diseases to headaches, burning eyes, and more. 

Recommendation: ensure good air conditioning (sufficient or better capacity; HEPA filters at medical quality or made for medical use); reduce air recirculation (the mixing of clean and polluted air); set up optimal thermal comfort; minimize the risk of free airborne volatile substances (from the building materials used and from inappropriate disinfection); regularly check chemical and biological water quality; monitor moisture within the building, and prevent mildews and seepages from arising within the building.

5/ Stakeholder Involvement and Communication

Timely and ongoing communication with a building’s users (primarily its tenants, but during crises, its current visitors as well) significantly contributes to better informedness by individuals and de-escalation of interpersonal conflicts in tense situations. A communication campaign can also be used as a part of awareness-raising aimed at supporting habits that promote good health.     

Recommendations: prepare brochures, leaflets, training sessions, and/or applications that summarize desired behaviors by tenants and visitors within your building.