As we think about the tools required to beat Covid-19, now more than ever our buildings are a critical part of the public health equation. Architects, designers, engineers, facilities managers and other property professionals will be frontline caregivers in the next stage of recovery, but they cannot do it alone.

Ann Marie Aguilar

Ann Marie Aguilar

What is more important than any building or design feature is creating and nurturing a culture of health that supports people to stay home when unwell. A study earlier this year by business consultant Insight estimated that 37% of UK employees went to work sick in the past year as they did not want to be judged by employers or co-workers, infecting colleagues as a result.

You cannot simply design your way out of diseases like Covid-19. There must be a combination of design, operational and organisational interventions that utilised together go a long way to create a culture of health and instil confidence to prepare our spaces for re-entry.

Covid-19 has highlighted the critical role buildings play in supporting people’s health, safety and wellbeing. Transmission of Covid-19 largely occurs in indoor and enclosed environments, where people spend around 90% of their time. Longer-term design strategies are important in reducing the risks of infectious disease spread, but the urgent need for high health and safety standards in the buildings we return to has prompted a laser focus on strategies that can be implemented immediately to protect stakeholders from acute threats.

What has emerged is the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management, an evidence-based, third-party-verified rating based on operational policies, maintenance protocols, stakeholder engagement and emergency plans, to address a post-Covid-19 environment and broader health and safety issues in future.

Building safety checks

Source: Shutterstock/ SpeedKingz

The rating is informed by guidance from the World Health Organization, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, global disease control and prevention centres, emergency management agencies, standard-making bodies, academic and research institutions, and IWBI’s Covid-19 Task Force. It focuses on: sanitisation and cleaning; emergency preparedness programmes, including plans to support business continuity, remote-work readiness and project re-entry; access to healthcare, vaccinations and paid sick leave; and air- and water-quality management.

Stakeholder engagement and educational resources are critical to help individuals cultivate healthy habits and resilience to physical and mental health stress factors.

High standards

Owners and operators of large and small businesses need strategies to deliver high health and safety standards in the spaces we occupy. The rating can help users prioritise the health of staff, visitors and stakeholders and enable them to reopen with the confidence and integrity provided by third-party verification. The rating is applicable to every type of building and facility: offices, hotels, schools, sports stadiums, retail outlets, restaurants, theatres and entertainment venues.

Notable organisations including the Royal Albert Hall, Empire State Building, Uber, JLL and Lendlease have committed to enrol so we can get back to our workplaces, to learning and many of our favourite pastimes sooner rather than later.

Our current situation has underscored to companies how important it is to be prepared for a crisis. We have the tools to address acute threats, using our buildings and spaces as a first line of defence in the fight against Covid-19.

As we support people’s health and safety needs, this is helping ensure we are ready in both normal operating periods and times of emergencies – and is generating confidence in those who frequent buildings and the broader community.

Ann Marie Aguilar is EMEA senior vice-president of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI)