WELL Health-Safety Rating & LEED Safety First: What You Need To Know

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WELL Health-Safety Rating & LEED Safety First: What You Need To Know

As organizations wonder what the future of workplace will look like, high-performance rating systems are rising to the challenge. Here, we’ll dive into the new WELL Health-Safety Rating and LEED Safety First pilot credits—along with a nod to Arc’s Re-Entry tool—to help familiarize project practitioners with their rating system-aligned options for building re-entry and the post-pandemic built environment. We’ll identify who should care, provide a primer and outline benefits of each option, and explore the path of early adopters.


The WELL Health-Safety Rating and the LEED Safety First pilot credits are most applicable to existing building tenants. Both provide mainly policy-based strategies for ongoing operations and maintenance that help create safe and healthy spaces for occupants to return to post-pandemic, which tenants and operators should use as guidelines to inform their ‘return to work (or school or play)’ approach.

Core and shell developers should also take note, though the new rating system and credits are not as directly applicable to design as your typical WELL and LEED new construction certifications. These new options focus on addressing building operations beyond design and construction to promote healthy, safe, and resilient environments. Developers can incorporate parts of these standards to differentiate their building for future tenants as a space that is ahead of the pandemic and extra safe and healthy for occupants, which could have strong marketing value.

As far as use types, while widely applicable, these new options are especially pertinent to spaces that have been largely impacted by COVID-19 and are being fast-tracked to reopen, including K-12 and higher education projects, as well as event venues and sports arenas.


WELL Health-Safety Rating
While it launched out of the IWBI Task Force on COVID-19, the WELL Heath-Safety Rating for Facility Operations & Management goes beyond the immediate COVID-19 moment to address resiliency and broader health and wellness applicability. It is designed to be flexible and customizable based on facility type and adaptable to an organization’s needs. Born from the same evidence-based approach as typical WELL certification, which already outlines healthy building design strategies that support in the fight against COVID-19, the criteria and verification of the Health-Safety Rating specifically involve operational policies, maintenance protocols, emergency plans, and stakeholder education and engagement.

To achieve the rating, which results in a simple universal seal with no certification levels, projects must achieve a minimum of 15 features (out of 21 possible) across the 5 categories:

• Cleaning and Sanitization Procedures
• Emergency Preparedness Programs
• Health Service Resources
• Air and Water Quality Management
• Stakeholder Engagement and Communication

If your project is already pursuing WELL certification, it is likely a no-brainer to pursue the Health-Safety Rating. A total of 13 WELL Health-Safety Features have full or partial alignment with 19 WELL Certification Feature Parts and there isn’t even an added fee if your project is already pursuing WELL certification—just submit your application with the rest of your WELL documentation to get the seal. If your project is an existing building that is only interested in pursuing the WELL Health-Safety Rating, the fee to apply and achieve the seal is only $4,500 for an individual project. Various scaled pricing options are also available depending on your specific project scope.

Once certified, ongoing monitoring reports verify performance annually in WELL Online and spaces submit for annual renewal of the seal.

LEED Safety First Pilot Credits
The USGBC has created four new LEED pilot credits to assist with building re-entry through its Healthy Economy strategy. The credits, which “outline sustainable best practices that align with public health and industry guidelines related to cleaning and disinfecting, workplace re-occupancy, HVAC, and plumbing operations,” are applicable for projects that are already LEED certified or currently pursuing LEED certification. Specifically, the Safety First credits are:

Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Space
Re-enter Your Workspace
Building Water System Recommissioning
Managing Indoor Air Quality During COVID-19

These four new LEED pilot credits also have partial alignment with some of the strategies in the WELL Health-Safety rating. Therefore, if pursuing both, it is recommended teams work together to develop policies that are comprehensive and cover both requirements.

Arc Re-Entry Tool
In addition to the new LEED pilot credits, existing and LEED O+M buildings that utilize Arc should be aware of new tools and analytics that have been launched to support workplace re-entry. Arc Re-Entry tools have been designed to document and benchmark infection-control procedures, analyze occupant experiences, track indoor air quality, and support LEED Safety First pilot credits and the WELL Health-Safety Rating.


Both the WELL Health-Safety Rating and LEED Safety First pilot credits provide helpful guidelines for how to maintain and operate your space for COVID-19, a boon to any organization that is preparing for a safe building re-entry. Specifically, LEED Safety First encompasses a much narrower scope and smaller effort but is a good opportunity to achieve additional Innovation credits if your project is already pursuing LEED certification and offers some smart basic steps to a safer building reopening. WELL’s Rating is more comprehensive, going even further to increase your space’s resiliency beyond the pandemic by addressing strategies to combat future emergencies.

While LEED Safety First pilot credits count toward a project’s overall LEED certification, there is some added marketing benefit in the WELL Health-Safety Rating as a separate rating system outside of traditional LEED and WELL certification. Displaying or promoting a WELL Health-Safety Seal on your building provides third-party verification that your building specifically prioritizes the health, safety, and wellbeing of its occupants and is prepared for emergency and crisis recovery. WELL Health-Safety projects will also be featured in the WELL Project Directory in the future.

Regardless of which option you pursue, committing to these guidelines can foster employee and occupant trust when employers and building operators clearly communicate the steps your organization or property is taking to prioritize the health, safety, and wellness of building occupants. Transparent communication and action are critical in times of vast uncertainty, and this will help employees, students, and visitors feel safer returning to your workplace, school, store, venue, or other space when allowed to do so.


While they are both brand new and may need to be modified as new scientific findings are released, the WELL Health-Safety Rating and LEED Safety First pilot credits are currently relatively straightforward options for building tenants, operators, and developers who want to prioritize occupant health, safety, and wellness while weaving resiliency into your project’s operational fabric during COVID-19, future crises, and beyond. Adoption by leaders has been quick—as of early July 2020, over 100 organizations and real estate portfolios globally already enrolled to achieve the WELL Health-Safety Rating.

Stok is helping clients pursue these new standards of safety and resiliency, from affordable housing developers to commercial office tenants. If you’re interested in learning more or seeing if these options are applicable to your project, reach out to our healthy building experts.

For anyone interested in the WELL Health-Safety Rating, the IWBI’s resource page is also full of helpful guidebooks and tools to explore further.