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Why the Dubai Land Department’s adoption of WELL Health-Safety rating makes business sense

Sustainability By Mario Saab, Head of Sustainability, MENA – 26 October 2021

Phone and IEQ monitor on the desk showing the air quality reading of 82


Mario Saab wearing a blue suit while standing in-front of a glass wall

Mario Saab

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First published in Construction Week

The past 16 months have been particularly challenging for many of us as we live through a global pandemic. As companies move out of the lockdown phase and people return to their regular places of work, ensuring these buildings and spaces are designed to support their health, safety and wellbeing is more important than ever.

In June 2021, the Dubai Land Department (DLD) officially declared the adoption of the WELL Health-Safety Rating to promote world-class wellbeing standards in the emirate’s properties, and recommended implementing this programme to various relevant authorities in jointly owned properties across Dubai.

For real estate developers, this decision would be an obvious choice since it enhances investors’ confidence, by showing them a dedication to create an attractive real estate environment with the highest standards of health, safety and sustainability.

The WELL Health-Safety rating draws on strategies from the full WELL Building Standard to address today’s health and safety needs. It covers 21 features that focus on operational policies, maintenance protocols, emergency plans, cleaning protocols, stakeholder education, and air and water quality.

It can be applied to all building typologies, existing or new, even if not currently WELL certified. It is designed to offer re-assurance to occupants on return to a workplace, whilst preparing buildings for a post-pandemic environment now, and in the future.

By achieving the WELL Health-Safety Seal, organisations signal to their clients, stakeholders and everyone entering their premises that evidence-based strategies and third-party solutions have been adopted, tested and verified to deliver a healthy and safe workplace. This goes a long way in terms of objective scientific credibility versus the mere subjective declaration of “taking necessary precautions”.

That was the case with PwC Middle East who entrusted Cundall in achieving this Health-Safety rating for their new office building in Dubai.

The recent drive towards healthier workplaces stemmed from the simple understanding of the link between workplace wellbeing and productivity. Research shows that workplace environments can have a significant impact on occupants’ health and wellbeing. Studies from Harvard and Oxford Brookes Universities indicate that a range of environmental factors, such as CO2 concentrations, thermal, visual and acoustic comfort, can have an impact of up to 20% on peoples’ productivity. Hence on a social level, organisations are introducing comprehensive corporate wellbeing programmes, that clearly show their ethical practices and corporate social responsibility (CSR).

On a commercial level, the business case for investing in workplace wellbeing and productivity is definitely compelling.

On the one hand, the increasing demand for buildings to achieve robust standards to support the health and wellbeing of occupiers, will have implications for the attractiveness, and consequently the investment value of office buildings in the future. It will also help in avoiding reputational damage and enjoying lower insurance costs.

On the other hand, when you consider that 90% of business operating costs are typically associated with staff, this means that even a 1% increase in productivity could equate to savings of hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dirhams.

As engineers we can assess indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and monitor it in use, however the financial link between IEQ and productivity has traditionally been difficult to demonstrate to occupiers and investors. By compiling the latest academic and industry research we have been able to produce a bespoke tool which can finally demonstrate this link. Our in-house Grasshopper developed “Productivity Mapping toolkit” has allowed us - and our clients - to build a better understanding of where systems fail to deliver.

The generated data is used to aggregate the loss of productivity, which, when combined with an organisation’s revenue or salary costs of the occupier, provides an assessment of the financial impact for a range of IEQ measures.

As workplace wellbeing continues to dominate the conversation around office design, the direct link between indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and productivity is becoming clearer by the day, and such tools demonstrate that investing in workplace wellbeing makes perfect business sense.