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If the jobsite for a green building isn't any safer than the jobsite for a conventional building, is something missing from our definition of "green"? That is the question raised by a new study, "Impact of Green Building Design and Construction on Worker Safety and Health," published in October in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management. The authors--two university professors and a safety supervisor with the Hoffman Construction Company in Portland, Oregon, went hunting for any statistical difference in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recordable and lost time injury and illness data for green and nongreen projects. The number of projects surveyed, 86 (38 green and 48 nongreen) is modest but impressive, considering the difficulty in extracting data from firms. Nine of 15 firms surveyed supplied data. For statistics geeks, the study reveals some suggestive tidbits, but bottom line? "There appears to be little or no difference between green and nongreen projects in terms of construction worker safety and health." Greener projects, as measured by LEED credits achieved (see graph) did not see a statistically significant reduction in safety incidents. The authors conclude:
Because no difference in safety performance is experienced, LEED projects are perhaps sustainable environmentally but not sustainable in terms of worker safety and health. The writers believe that, similar to end-user safety and health, construction workers safety and health must be considered if a project is to be labeled as sustainable.
Should LEED and other green building efforts pay more attention to worker safety? Some argue that social justice as a wider cause is under-represented in our definitions of green building, as explored in this provocative Environmental Building News feature article (requires membership). What do you think? Please leave your comments below. Thanks to a note on the Society of Building Science Educators listserv for mentioning this study.

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1 Whether you are building a gr posted by Dan J on 01/08/2010 at 12:47 pm

Whether you are building a green building or a classic style project. If you are truly being "Osha 30" safe. Then you are being as diligent as you need to be. Osha standards are set very high. They, osha know and understand the risks of construction. The problem is few projects maintain that level. It is difficult for a number of reasons. I can not see how you can raise the bar any higher, unless you follow Federal guidelines such as EM-385.1.1. No greener though. In the same conversation though an opportunity for the project that could make it greener would be to properly enforce SWPPP. Within that process, there is product substitutions and means and methods that could darken the green. Usually the same manager controls both of those critical activities.

2 Sustainable is sustainable fo posted by Bryan Kim Turner on 01/12/2010 at 07:01 am

Sustainable is sustainable for all resources, and our labor force is a resource. As with all things green, money is an issue but green builders are balancing dollars with building science all over the country and the same should be true of jobsite saftey. We are setting a higher bar with the quality of project delivered. Jobsite saftey on green jobs should follow suit.

3 Linking safety records and LE posted by Yancy Wright on 01/19/2010 at 10:38 am

Linking safety records and LEED credits aren't necessarily going to result in a cut and dry assessment of whether or not green building projects are safer. There are several other variables that need to be taken into account before concluding green buildings are "not sustainable in terms of worker safety and health". For example, how compressed was the construction schedule, what project type was it (residential, office tower, hospital, etc.), was it built by skilled union labor or not, how was safety managed on the site, was this study comprised of one GC with a consistent safety program or by several GC's with varying safety records, etc.

4 I agree with the comment that posted by Dianne Grote Adams on 01/30/2010 at 02:42 am

I agree with the comment that sustainable should include protecting the human resources involved. I disagree that the OSHA standards are adequate to protect workers. For employee health and safety to improve, safety performance must be measured and supervisors and managers held accountable for meeting those performance measures, just like all other areas of the businss. Those performance measures must including leading indicators not just the lagging indicators of incident rates.

5 One point to consider in the posted by Maria Viteri on 01/20/2010 at 06:51 am

One point to consider in the statistical reduction in safety incidents for greener projects is the possibility that qualifications for these projects may already raise the bar on contractor experience and performance. The current requirement for successful completion of LEED projects is leading to the continuous education of the contractor and craftworker. Some CM's are even requiring higher skill levels on green projects. Skilled labor already looks at uniform provisions for OSHA training. The bricklayers union, for example has a national train the trainer program for OSHA 30 that connects to masonry contractors nationwide.

6 Construction has been deregul posted by Thermoguy on 01/25/2010 at 09:35 am

Construction has been deregulated to make economy and the science as well as the trade has been taken out of it. The only reason that happened is because although buildings are designed for specific temperatures, we couldn't see compliance with building code. The long term affect of all construction impacts workers as well as their families, even though they aren't on the job site.

The cause of urban heat islands are buildings being radiated by the sun because of absorbent exterior finishes and we are responding to symptoms with massive emissions while the domino effect impacts workers. If you don't shade or use exterior finishes that don't allow solar interaction, the building is probably being radiated and generating heat exceeding building codes. Buildings are an intricate science, not a hobby or economy for people to exploit when unqualified.

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