Green construction’s added ingredient – danger

Construction workers involved in environmentally friendly, ‘green’ building projects can face additional traditional and novel hazards, researchers have found.  Problems identified in the study identify a greater risk of falls and new, high risk tasks.

The University of Colorado study, publishing in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, examined construction projects built to achieve the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.  The research team found compared to traditional builds, certain tasks in sustainable building projects put workers at an increased risks of lacerations, strains and sprains (up 36 per cent from handling recycled materials), eye strain (up 19 per cent from installing reflective membranes) and exposure to hazardous chemicals (up 14 per cent from installing wastewater technologies).  The study also found a 24 per cent increase in falls during roof work, attributed to the installation of on‐site renewable energy systems like photovoltaic cells.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” noted Peter Stafford, executive director of CPWR – the Center for Construction Research and Training, which supported the study. “With proper layout of the worksite, recyclables can be sorted safely and efficiently. With properly scheduled breaks for hydration, a reflective roof doesn’t have to mean trips to the hospital. And with proper fall protection solar panels can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels without risking workers’ lives and limbs.”

Contractors and designers interviewed for the study said measures to reduce injuries and better protect workers could include incorporating prefabrication, more effective site layout and use of alternative products. Using low-emission materials also could reduce occupational health risks for workers in enclosed environments.

  • Katherine S Dewlaney, Matthew R Hallowell, and Bernard R Fortunato, Safety risk quantification for high performance sustainable building construction, Journal of Construction Engineering and Management, published online ahead of print, 2011 [abstract].
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