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LEED Safety First Initiative Helps Office Workers Breathe a Little Easier

WELL Health-Safety Rating Puts a Number on Best Practices for Battling COVID-19

Sustainable best practices in the workplace has taken on a whole new dimension in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. To accomplish the multifaceted demands of providing a safe, healthy environment suitable for returning workers, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has released new LEEDS guidelines that align with public health requirements.The four innovative Safety First Pilot Credits were created as part of the USGBC’s economic recovery strategy focusing on sustainable solutions to rebuild a stronger and healthier economy by prioritizing healthy people in healthy places.

In a recent news release, Mahesh Ramanujam, president & CEO of USGBC, stated, “These new credits are a first step in helping the building and construction industry demonstrate its commitment to sustainable strategies as part of building a healthier, more resilient future.” Ramanujam also said, “Supporting environmental and occupant health is a critical part of supporting community health and, as we look ahead, we know LEED and the USGBC community will play a role in delivering solutions that lay a better foundation for our economic and environmental well-being.”

The credits are available to all LEED 2009, LEED v4 and LEED v4.1 projects and are defined below:

1. The Safety First: Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Space credit requires facilities to create a policy and implement procedures that follow green cleaning best practices that support a healthy indoor environment and worker safety. Unlike the need to develop new vaccines and medical treatments for COVID-19, current disinfectants and cleaning processes are effective against the Coronavirus, and sustainable options exist. In addition to product considerations, the credit also requires procedures and training for cleaning personnel, occupant education and other services that are within a management team’s control.

2. The Safety First: Re-Enter Your Workspace credit is a tool to assess and plan for re-entry, as well as measure progress once a space is occupied. It identifies sustainable requirements in building operations and human behavior that take precautions against the spread of COVID-19. It aligns with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Re-occupancy Assessment Tool and requires transparent reporting and evaluation of decisions to encourage continuous improvement.

3. The Safety First: Building Water System Recommissioning credit helps building teams reduce the risk that occupants are exposed to degraded water quality. Building and business closures over weeks or months reduce water usage that can potentially lead to stagnant water and water that is unsafe to drink or use. The credit integrates recommendations from industry organizations and experts, including the U.S. EPA and CDC. It requires buildings to develop and implement a water management plan, coordinate with local water and public health authorities, communicate water system activities and associated risks to building occupants and take steps to address water quality from the community supply, as well as the building.

4. The Safety First: Managing Indoor Air Quality During COVID-19 credit builds on existing indoor air quality requirements and credits in LEED. Building teams should ensure indoor air quality systems are operating as designed and determine temporary adjustments to ventilation that may minimize the spread of COVID-19 through the air. Additional considerations include increasing ventilation and air filtration, physical distancing of occupants and following measures outlined in public health and industry resources, as well as guidance found in the Re-Enter Your Workspace credit. The guidance also encourages monitoring and evaluating indoor air quality on an ongoing basis.

Measuring the New Sustainable Success through the WELL Health-Safety Rating

Crafted to complement and reference health-based governmental guidance and requirements, the WELL Health-Safety Rating is designed to adapt to evolving issues within its focus on facilities operations and management and health and safety. The rating is renewed annually, giving organizations the opportunity to tailor their strategies to align with their goals and unique health-safety considerations.

The WELL Health-Safety Rating consists of the following core areas:

  • Cleaning and Sanitization Procedures

  • Emergency Preparedness Programs

  • Health Service Resources

  • Air and Water Quality Management

  • Stakeholder Engagement and Communication

There are 21 features in the core areas with a minimum of 15 that need to be met. Here is a look at the requirements of one of the features:

Reduce Surface Contact


Reduce the amount of hand contact on high-touch surfaces.


Summary: Assess high-touch surfaces throughout the project and implement temporary and/or permanent strategies to reduce frequency or need for occupants to come into direct contact with surfaces.

Issue: Coronaviruses and noroviruses, among other pathogens, can survive on surfaces infected by droplets. For instance, research suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can remain airborne for up to three hours and on some surfaces for up to 72 hours. Several outbreak investigations have supported the potential of fomites (i.e., infected surfaces) to cause viral diseases.

Solutions: Reducing the instances where occupants touch surfaces can help minimize one of the vectors of disease transmission.


Project provides the following:

a. An inventory of:

  1. All high-touch surfaces (e.g., doorknobs/handles, telephones, elevator buttons, faucet handles, soap dispensers, security equipment).

  2. All person-person contact points (e.g., security check-points).

b. Potential temporary and/or permanent measures to reduce or eliminate frequency of contact with high-touch surfaces and person-person contact, if possible (e.g., doors opened by an attendant, touch-free faucets, voice-activated elevators, ticketless entry, transparent partitions).

c. Circumstances in which temporary measures will be implemented and timeline for permanent measures to be implemented.

A complete list of the WELL Health-Safety Rating requirements can be found at cdn.wellcertified.com. For additional information on the new LEEDS guidelines, visit the USGBC website at usgbc.org.

HL Law Group is a boutique law firm that focuses its practice on property damage insurance claims. Call (855) 713-1212 or email us at info@hllawgroup.com if you have a question or a potential claim.

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