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This Test Will Tell You How Your Office Is Affecting Your Health

This Test Will Tell You How Your Office Is Affecting Your Health
Fitness & Sport

A new certification measures how 'healthy' a workplace is for its employees

Daniela Walker
  • 7 june 2016

People spend 85% of their day at work, so why is our working environment rarely considered when considering our health? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the General Services Administration (GSA) hope to change all that with Fitwel, a new certification system for offices.

Fitwel examines over 60 different strategies that determine the healthiness of an office. Over five years of research, interviews with public health and design experts and a pilot program in 89 federal buildings fed into the resulting questionnaire. The criteria is broken down into seven health impact categories including whether the workplace will increase physical activity – for instance because it has bike parking that encourages cycling versus being in a location that is only accessible by car. Other criteria include access to healthy food options, indoor air quality and stairwell design.

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“This is very much designed for existing buildings,” says Joanna Frank, director at the Center for Active Design, a non-profit working with the CDC to expand the program. “It really is about raising everybody up a few levels, rather than saying this is the bar.”

Compared to other government rating systems, the Fitwel certification system is relatively low cost to get and small changes can easily help a building manager improve the healthiness of a building. For instance, in the pilot program, the CDC found that changing the stairwell signage to make it more clear or adding music to stairwells made people more likely to use them.

The CDC is now partnering with the Centre for Active Design to begin rolling out Fitwel to select private businesses with a view of expanding the program in 2017.

While it may seem curious that the CDC, often associated with keeping infections for diseases at bay, is involved the link between public health and the health of the nation is becoming more clear. Concern over employee wellness is not only about health but about productivity and can help prevent absenteeism.

“We’re a health agency, so we’re trying to make sure we’re operating to promote health and taking those lessons learned and sharing them more broadly,” says the CDC’s chief sustainability officer Liz York.

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