Pandemic restrictions delayed the launch of WELL Building Standard Version 2.0 in the spring of 2020. The IWBI took advantage of that time to explore if and how WELL could adapt to the current situation.  

“We convened a task force of 600 experts to get feedback on what might be missing from Version 2.0,” recalls Stodola. Those experts included public health professionals, virologists, government officials, academics, business leaders, architects, designers, building scientists and real estate professionals.  

Initial findings revealed that parts of Version 2.0 already addressed issues that could influence the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory infections.  

“Much of the program, like increased air ventilation requirements, already fit in nicely,” adds Stodola.  

But the IWBI saw an opportunity to do more. They crafted the WELL Health-Safety Rating to offer building owners and operators an immediate roadmap for reopening. The rating focuses on acute health risks and emergency preparedness. While it was born of pandemic necessity, it is an “evergreen program,” according to Stodola, “providing business continuity during any disaster.” 

Just as rigorous as other IWBI products, the WELL Health-Safety Rating does not talk about architecture or design. Instead, it focuses on actionable changes that facility operations and management can make to immediately boost safety.  

“It is the most product-based offering we have,” says Stodola.  

The rating includes 20 features across six core areas (think of core areas like the concepts outlined in WELL Version 1.0 and 2.0). The core areas include cleaning and sanitation procedures, emergency preparedness programs, health service resources, air and water quality management, stakeholder engagement and communications, and innovation.  

In addition to its focus on potential risks associated with infectious disease, the WELL Health-Safety Rating includes operational strategies to mitigate mold, Legionnaires' disease, and air and water quality contaminants. It also focuses on emergency planning and operations, as well as occupant communication and engagement to ensure awareness and participation in creating a healthy, safe environment. Finally, the rating includes strategies to support occupant and employee health — with a focus on mental health during crises, sick leave policies and community immunity.  

What does this look like in practice?  

It might be very similar to what organizations are already doing. For example, when it comes to cleaning and sanitation procedures, the WELL Health-Safety Rating requires that facilities adopt policies like using fragrance-free liquid hand soap and providing paper towels, fabric hand roll towels, or hand dryers with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. It asks that cleaning cloths be color coded, and safety data sheets (SDS) be current, accessible and available in languages spoken by the cleaning crew.   

And if the cleaning program is already certified by the Green Seal Standard for Commercial and Institutional Cleaning Services, or is GBAC STAR Service Accredited, “you are already about one-third of the way to a WELL certification,” according to Stodola.  

Or it might look like something managers know they are supposed to be doing but are not. For instance, one feature of the ‘Cleaning and Sanitizing’ core asks for “surface touch assessment.” This comprehensive inventory calls for a list of all high-touch surfaces throughout the space including doorknobs and handles, telephones, elevator buttons, faucet handles, soap dispensers and security equipment.  

Wouldn’t crews tasked with cleaning these heavily used surfaces already know what and where they are?  

“Do they?” retorts Ashkin. “People understand the words ‘high-touch,’ but do they really go through a building and identify all the specific surfaces that need to be addressed? Many do, but certainly not everyone.” 

Ratings and the Bottom Line 

Achieving a WELL rating may seem daunting at first, but Ashkin urges cleaning professionals to take it one step at a time.  

“You don’t need to be an expert on the entire system, just the requirements that pertain to you,” he says.  

This reasoning makes sense.  

“The WELL program is here to stay,” says Ashkin, “and this is a way to differentiate yourself in the market. The cleaning industry is often considered a commodity, and as a result, customers will judge us on price alone. If you start looking at issues like health and wellness, you elevate your service above a commodity. You now have expertise that people will pay for.”

Ratings may also earn facility cleaning managers a seat at the table when it comes time to make design decisions for big building projects. 

“When it comes to new projects, facility managers and cleaning professionals should be involved from the get-go,” says Stodola. “This is a way to get there.” 

Amy Milshtein is a freelancer based in Portland, Oregon. She is a frequent contributor to Facility Cleaning Decisions. 

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How WELL Certification Boosts Facility Safety, Morale