There’s a new player in the world of health and safety standards for the built environment and it comes with a posse of celebrity ambassadors. Anyone with cable television might have even seen one of their commercials with Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, or even Michael B. Jordan speaking about how public spaces need to come with the proper protocols in place to ensure occupants are safe in their wellbeing.
The WELL Health-Safety Rating was officially launched in July 2020 by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). It is a focused iteration of the WELL Building Standard and was developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “The buildings in which we spend most of our time have the most significant impact on health, wellbeing, and performance,” said Mark Erba, senior director of global market development for the Americas with WELLs.
To receive the Health-Safety Rating, the space needs to achieve 15 of the 22 core requirements of the program. “If you want to achieve the minimum, you could start as a base with WELL Heath-Safety Rating and achieve those 15-feature minimums. You can then start to optimize and move up as you make those progresses in your organization and update them.” The requirements are broken into five subcategories— cleaning and sanitization, emergency preparedness, health service resources, air and water quality management, and stakeholder engagement and communication.
These strategies were developed by IWBI with guidance by the World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), global disease control and prevention centers and emergency management agencies, as well as recognized standard-making bodies such as ASTM International, ASHRAE, and other leading academic and research institutions.
The building’s owner can apply for the Health-Safety Rating, but additionally, tenants within the building can also certify. This means that an entire building could be certified under this program, or simply a floor.
A growing reason for this certification, especially amongst larger corporations, is around ESG reporting, or rather an organization’s environmental, social and governance (ESG). The Health-Safety rating is focused on airborne pathogens to really hone it down in response to the pandemic.
Enhancing skill sets
For those in the skilled trades, the IWBI has developed a professional designation, known as the WELL Accredited Professional or WELL AP, that allows for those in the industry to achieve certification to work on WELL projects.
“When a project is looking to pursue WELL, there’s various professionals involved from design and build to operations and maintenance,” explains Erba. “An important part of building performance is ongoing maintenance. Several features, for example, system commissioning and filter replacement, require project teams to document that their mechanical systems are being maintained and cared for. Many of these professionals in the skilled trades attain a professional designation known as WELL AP.”
There is an exam involved to gain the final accreditation within the growing community, which currently sits at over 22,000 professionals across all categories, including design professionals, architectural professionals, and trade professionals. The accreditation would provide a skill set and a knowledge of the WELL certification that would enhance their professional aptitude and therefore, marketability, explains Erba. “It is given to individuals who work at any stage within the lifecycle of the building.”
When asked why a contractor should think about applying for the accreditation program, Erba explained that the acceleration over the past 18 to 24 months has steadily been on the up. “We certified approximately 600,000 square feet of space in our first five years as an organization and over the past 18 months that’s jumped up to 3 billion sq. ft,” explains Erba. “It’s kind of a hockey stick acceleration of health and wellbeing in the built environment.”
Additionally, he states that the accreditation would provide a skill set and knowledge base of the WELL certification that would enhance their professional aptitude, and therefore, marketability.
The Health-Safety Rating program is only a small portion within the WELL Building Standard—this addressed a much more comprehensive look at the entire building. While the Health-Safety program only required 15 marks to be checked and re-certification every year, the Building Standard has a range of 100 different features across 10 different concepts or categories. Buildings can receive bronze status for achieving 40 of the 100 features, silver status for 50 of the 100, gold for 60 of the 100, and lastly, platinum for 80 of the 100.
As of November, there are approximately 33,000 projects in 98 countries that are enrolled in one or more of the WELL programs. Approximately 16,000 have achieved full WELL certification or the WELL Health-Safety Rating. According to Erba, Canada is among the top 10 countries with 29 million sq. ft. of WELL certified or Health-Safety rated space.
The rating for the WELL certification is valid for three years, after this, the building will have to undergo performance testing to see where the building is currently sitting in the rankings and whether or not upgrades will be necessary. This performance testing is specific to air, water, light, and sound measurements, according to Erba, and is performed by third-party WELL assessors.
This program is ideal for people that are concerned to go back into the workplace, offering peace of mind as the country still battles this pandemic, states Erba. After all, the country has never been more aware of the space around them.