On March 30, 2021, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) became the first federal agency to achieve the International WELL Building Institute’s Health-Safety Rating. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, NIEHS upgraded facility operations and management practices to protect staff and others who visit the institute’s campus in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and those efforts have now earned global recognition.
NIEHS, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), joins organizations such as JP Morgan Chase and the New York Yankees in receiving the WELL building seal of approval. The WELL rating system is designed to encourage organizations to make workplaces and community spaces as safe and health-promoting as possible. Celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Venus Williams, and others have kicked-off a major ad campaign to raise awareness about the program.
“At NIEHS, our mission is to discover how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives,” said Chris Long, the institute’s associate director for management. “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 that our partners in the NIH Office of Research Facilities provided in pursuing this first-ever WELL certification in the federal government.”
The WELL building rating achieved by NIEHS goes beyond the many protective measures undertaken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It signals the institute’s long-term commitment to maintaining high facility standards in the following 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 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.”