The important role of safety in maintaining a person’s Health and Well-being in the built environment

From Hippocrates to Abraham Maslow, there is a long-held belief that the built environment can play a part in both improving and damaging human health and wellbeing.  Maslow highlighted that physical safety comes second only to physiological needs for humans to feel healthy and motivated in their surroundings.  More recently, The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (Number 11) requires that we make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
Within the UK, recent tragic events have brought safety firmly into the public’s focus – particularly regarding fire safety. Occupiers of buildings are now far more aware of elements, such as construction materials or fire evacuation strategies and the impact that these can have on their working or living environment. Having reassurance that these elements are being effectively managed can be seen as a key factor in how safe people feel within buildings.
The feeling of being physically safe in a building can influence a person’s wellbeing, health, and productivity.  The two are intrinsically linked. However, despite the fact that physical safety is a pre-requisite to wellbeing, it is still an area that is lacking in many workplaces. For people to feel safe in a building, we need to implement systems that ensure buildings are safe for daily life, and the real estate sector has a very important role to play in delivering this across the built environment – whether for work, leisure or residential buildings.
Global surveys show that engagement with employers and employees to make the workplace a safer and healthier environment can reduce absenteeism, reduce the number of accidents and ill health and, in turn, reduce the cost to the business. Employers promoting a healthy lifestyle, understand the work place must also be safe place in which to work.
It has been shown that companies that invest in a Workplace Wellness Program, including a workplace improvement strategy implemented to improve the health and wellbeing of employees, can reduce their employees’ health risk factors.  In addition, if an organization focuses on the safety of their working environment, this will also have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the people who work within the building. This has been demonstrated in a recent CIPD survey. 1
Health and wellbeing is becoming increasingly more important for real estate companies and investors, hoping to have the long term-benefit of adding internal value by ensuring healthy and engaged employees or tenants.  The happier tenants or employees are, the more likely they are to remain in the building, which helps secure rental income for the building owner-investor, improve “desirability” of the property and helps bring about a thriving and long-standing tenant base, with the further opportunity for improved rental income.   In a retail environment, it is equally important for visitors to feel safe and happy, in order to not only ensure their safety but also to improve their feelings of health and wellbeing. An appealing environment is also likely to attract greater numbers of visitors, thereby indirectly benefiting retail tenant income and in turn commanding higher rents.

How can we put in place Improvement Strategies to ensure the health and wellbeing of a building’s occupants and what aspects should be considered?

The physical conditions of a building can be assessed, measured and evaluated. By capturing and analyzing data regarding the physical condition and safety status of a building, will yield rich data about the building which will directly prevent risk of physical injury or damage to health as well as influencing worker or occupant perceptions on their safety and wellbeing.  Organizations can then begin to understand how physical factors can influence the productivity and effectiveness of their premises, providing a case for better quality buildings.
A safe working environment is vital for the wellbeing of employees. This may include all aspects of a safe building or working environment, such as a well-maintained property, a visibly present health and safety team, safe and secure parking areas with suitable lighting when it is dark, or well-practiced fire and emergency routines.  Buildings must be free from building hazards, with substances such as asbestos and all other known hazards identified and controlled.
It is also the duty of the employer or building owner to make reasonable adjustments to their premises or working arrangements if these substantially disadvantage a disabled employee or disabled member of the public.  This gives special attention to those who require it to ensure they feel safe and able to occupy a building.  It also ensures inclusivity which is an asset in developing a feeling of wellbeing.
The risks posed by poor water hygiene can be potentially fatal and recent Legionella outbreaks have proven to have a dramatic impact on business costs and reputation.  Maintaining first-rate water hygiene management reduces these risks, ensures legal obligations are met and buildings and their occupants stay healthy and safe.
In addition, a number of parameters which can affect indoor air quality, such as the design of the workspace, design of the ventilation system, the frequency and effectiveness of maintenance and the quality of the external air, will also have an effect on the health and wellbeing of an employee or building occupant. To maintain satisfactory working conditions, indoor air quality should be monitored to ensure contaminants are not present at concentrations known to cause discomfort or impair health.

Using technology to facilitate the process

Using “proptech” such as RiskWise, the S2 Partnership’s property risk management system, can assist in maintaining the building to the high specification needed to ensure the health and wellbeing of its occupants.
By analyzing and tracking data such as water hygiene, air quality, asbestos information, fire safety, display screen equipment (DSE) assessments and disability access audits on RiskWise, a property owner or investor can easily plan, prioritise and track improvement strategies or mitigation plans to ensure that all properties within the portfolio remain compliant on all safety, health and wellbeing issues.
By working with employees and building occupants and recognizing the issues that can affect health and wellbeing, property owners and investors can have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the occupants in the buildings they own.
Ultimately, any occupant of a building wants to know that their health and safety concerns are being taken seriously – and this, in turn, has an impact on their own wellbeing

What else can we do?

It is a legal requirement to undertake risk assessments to ensure the safety of properties with regard to fire, water hygiene, asbestos and disability access; but the additional benefit is also that it will help to address the concerns of employees and building occupants, asking the question: Do they feel safe?
Assessing metrics within a building which have an impact on an employee’s or occupant’s well-being does not have to be a high-cost exercise and should ideally form a part of an organization’s overall strategy.

It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.2

The collection of relevant data means that organizations can greatly improve their understanding of the impact of their offices on its occupants.  There is an increasing appetite among building owners to accumulate this data and improve their visibility of safety concerns within their portfolio. Owner-investors may also choose to undertake supplementary App-based question sets such as tenant audits to ensure their health, safety and wellbeing needs are being met, and tenants themselves can be provided with their own visibility of risk reduction directly, by means of software dashboards.  This can help improve tenant engagement in the process of risk improvement, helping change behaviors within the building to bring about a jointly more safe and healthy environment.

The outcome of improving the physical environment of a building

An organization’s workforce is arguably its most valued asset – looking after people in the workplace can deliver improved productivity and reduced absenteeism, bringing huge cost savings to businesses.  Businesses committed to delivering a safe and healthy workplace thrive, whilst others risk falling foul of the law.  It is essential that employers do all they can to manage risks and protect their employees.
For building owners and managers, although there is some cost involved in commissioning audits and additional controls in a supplement to core statutory risk assessments, this improved level of data gives the building owner increased visibility which helps to inform decisions about safety, health, and well-being.  By implementing the extra controls, a building owner or investor may be able to realize the indirect benefit of a more desirable asset commanding greater competition and therefore rent.

  1. Health and Well-being At work survey 2018 – CIPD in partnership with Simply Health
  2. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 – section 2

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