Making sure ‘green’ means ‘safe’ at work

green killer

Everyone likes to talk green jobs – they sound good and who wants  to be a climate spoiler? But when you add in that the jobs should be “good”, “decent”, “safe” and green, there’s a distinct quietening of the chatter. In fact, while many talk a good green job, in practice it’s a load of greenwash.

In the latest in a series of stories on the ‘green jobs, safe jobs’ issue, Hazards magazine spells some of the major pitfalls workers are encountering.

  • Green initiatives might be good for the environment outside the workplace, but damaging for the workers inside. Workers have died from heat stress, for example, retrofitting insulation on buildings in hot weather. Some firms are requiring “green” lifestyle behaviour from their staff both inside and outside of work.
  • Many “green” industries are just old, nasty industries in new clothing – some, like construction and waste recycling and management, are among the most dangerous jobs you can do on land. Recycling can involve exposures to some of the most toxic (but valuable) substances around – like lead, cadmium and arsenic.
  • New “green” technologies, alternative substances and work methods might have proven benefits for the environment, but will not have been assessed for risks to workers – for example, nanomaterials or biotechnologies. You probably won’t even know you are using them.
  • Green products like solar panels, insulation material and wind turbines have to be produced and assembled, and this can mean using old-fashioned toxins and damaging and dangerous work processes.
  • Some of the most high-profile “green” and “ethical” companies, like Whole Foods and American Apparel, think they are too right-on or just plain “right” all the time to need unions. They care for the environment and their consumers OK, but think they know best when it comes to the treatment of their workers. They don’t.

Using graphic case histories to illustrate the argument, Hazards notes: “There’s something sickeningly familiar about some green jobs. Colin Sinclair died working at a windfarm. Bert Reeves died in a recycling yard. Others are just plain poisonous… it will take vigilance to make sure green jobs are decent, safe jobs.”

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