Health and Safety Considerations When Building Green
The last Safety Guys column introduced LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the US Green Building Council’s certification program for greener buildings. But, now that we know what building green means, are there any drawbacks? And, what does the forensic facility manager need to know and watch out for? In this column the Safety Guys will take a look at building green and some of the potential health and safety issues involved.
Review of “Building Green”
The US Green Building Council, founded in 1993 and representing more than 11,000 organizations from every sector of the building industry, aims to direct construction towards environmental responsibility and sustainability. In 1999 the USGBC introduced LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a nationally recognized rating system for design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. First designed for new commercial construction, there are now LEED rating systems for existing buildings, schools, and others, as well as systems under development for healthcare and laboratories.1
The LEED rating systems measure performance in six key areas and award four different levels of certification based on the aggregate scores achieved. The areas scored are sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality, and innovative design. The four levels of LEED accreditation, ranked in order, are Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
The reasons to “build green” and obtain LEED certification by following the rating system requirements are convincing. These projects, according to USGBC research, can realize up to 30% energy savings, 35% reduction of carbon emissions, use 30 to 50% less water, and generate 50 to 90% waste cost savings. All of these benefits and more for only 1 to 7% increase in construction costs.2
How Is Health and Safety Impacted?
Designing and building green mainly focuses on minimizing environmental and resource impacts. It is exciting to see that building occupant health and productivity are also being considered. But, is enough done and are the approaches the most effective or desirable? What about the construction worker’s health and safety?
In working through the LEED rating system requirements there are particular areas to which the health and safety manager should pay attention. Granted there are many positives to building green and LEED certification. But, potential negatives exist as well. By increasing our awareness and putting thought into these issues at the beginning, we can minimize or possibly eliminate them from our green building project.
Considerations for the Construction Workers
Three of the key performance areas contain potential pitfalls for construction workers. We’ll discuss them in the order encountered under LEED for New Construction. First, in the section of sustainable site development Credit 3 is for Brownfield redevelopment. A “Brownfield,” for those unfamiliar with the term, means “real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.”3 The intent is to rehabilitate damaged sites, a good idea. But, if you are building a project on a Brownfield, then you better make sure you have all the information available and have incorporated it into a comprehensive health and safety plan for use by all the various contractors and their construction crews.