On March 30, NIEHS became the first U.S. federal agency to achieve the International WELL Building Institute’s (IWBI) Health-Safety Rating. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, NIEHS has upgraded facility operations and management practices to protect staff and others who visit its campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Those efforts have now earned global recognition.
NIEHS joins organizations such as JP Morgan Chase and the New York Yankees in receiving the WELL building seal of approval. The WELL rating system encourages organizations to make workplaces and community spaces as safe and health-promoting as possible. Celebrities, including Jennifer Lopez, Venus Williams, and others, kicked off a major ad campaign about the program.
Living our mission
“At NIEHS, our mission is to discover how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives,” said NIEHS Executive Officer Chris Long. “Being awarded the WELL Health-Safety seal shows that we live our mission by creating a work environment that supports health and safety. We’re grateful for the hands-on leadership of our partners in the NIH [National Institutes of Health] Office of Research Facilities in pursuing this first-ever WELL certification for a federal government building.”
The WELL building rating achieved by NIEHS goes beyond protective measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It signals the institute’s long-term commitment to maintaining high facility standards in five areas.
- Air and water quality management — Assessing ventilation; maintaining air treatment systems; developing Legionella management plan; monitoring air and water quality; and managing mold and moisture on the premises.
- Cleaning and sanitization procedures — Improving cleaning practices to reduce exposure to pathogens, allergens, and harmful cleaning chemicals; cleaning high-touch surfaces three times per day; and following safety protocols by ensuring strict review of all cleaning products.
- Emergency preparedness programs — Helping to safely return employees to campus, as needed, during the pandemic; identifying potential effects of relevant hazards on the premises; determining emergency management planning priorities; and providing emergency resources, such as an outdoor notification system, indoor fire alarm system, and defibrillators.
- Health service resources — Providing annual sick leave and employee health benefits; supporting mental health through crisis counseling, bereavement counseling, and other services; providing a free on-site flu vaccination clinic; and promoting a smoke-free workplace.
- Stakeholder engagement and communication — Conducting monthly institute-wide meetings to share health and safety information; providing weekly updates about the COVID-19 pandemic; sharing food inspection information in the NIEHS cafeteria; and promoting health at the institute and across the U.S.
“Our institute’s health and safety team deserves great credit,” said NIEHS and National Toxicology Program Director Rick Woychik, Ph.D. “We have always enjoyed a clean, well-run research facility, but they found new ways to strengthen our operations in the middle of a pandemic. I’m thrilled that our institute achieved the WELL Health-Safety rating, and I think the progress we have made will benefit our staff and visitors for years to come.”
(Jesse Saffron, J.D., is a media relations coordinator in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and author of the related news release.)