concrete materials containing coal ash will be exposed to respirable toxics. Truly green principles would identify the potential for construction exposures and factor them into decision
making. Use of this product should, at the very least, include
dust suppression, adequate ventilation systems, and consideration of the product’s lifecycle, such as what happens to the material during and after the demolition phase.
Spray polyurethane foam (SPF) in insulation. SPF is a very
hazardous green product with narrow sustainability benefits.
Valued for its potential to increase energy efficiency, SPF poses
significant risks to installers, maintenance workers and firefighters. It also hermetically seals buildings, trapping nuisance
odors and toxics, and must be ventilated mechanically rather
than naturally. OSH professionals are needed to advise substitution to a less hazardous insulator or process, where appropriate.
The unique beauty of the green and sustainability movement is
that it makes moral stewardship of Mother Earth paramount. It
is value-driven, not necessarily governed by regulatory requirements. The long-term benefits from energy efficiency are understood, and being environmentally friendly is becoming very
marketable. Cost used to be the most criticized feature about
constructing environmentally friendly buildings, but green
building is showing that it pays for itself. Most green buildings
cost a premium of about two percent but can yield ten times as
much savings over the entire life of the building.
11 Higher energy costs, in addition to green marketing, have helped persuade the public that savings throughout a green building’s
lifecycle are worth the higher up-front cost.
Cost, however, is still the reason most often cited by owners,
contractors and designers for not ensuring safety beyond the
minimum regulatory requirements. The costs are still there, but
we need to look with a wider lens. When workers are injured
the costs are shifted from contractors and owners to workers,
their families, and taxpayers, who pay for disability benefits
and health care. It’s time to convince the public and building
occupants of the benefits of buildings whose costs aren’t measured in workers’ lives.
If the experience of the green movement is indicative, segments of society, if marketed to correctly, would accept the
marginally higher up-front costs associated with occupying facilities designed with enhanced occupational safety and health
in mind because of their long-term savings and contribution to
the public welfare. Where the tipping point of acceptance lies is
uncertain, but it is clear that the surge in interest to build green
provides an excellent opportunity to make the case for occupational health and safety sustainability in construction.
An emphasis on energy and resource efficiency, reduction of
carbon emissions and a lessened environmental impact from
building green is already underway. However, the construction
industry’s commitment to sustainability is unaccomplished
without an accounting of its impact on the safety and health of
workers who build, retrofit, and demolish the structures. For
construction to deserve “green” acclaim, it must reduce the hazards confronting workers by making an unreserved effort to an-
INSIGHT | DEPARTMENT
ticipate, recognize and control them. Embracing a long-term
perspective, sustainability principles incorporate a high regard for
life and our collective responsibility to the environment. It’s time
to apply those same values to the lives of workers, too.
UCLA-LaborOccupationalSafetyandHealthProgram,LosAngeles,Calif.,re-cently joined Health Science Associates in Los Alamitos, Calif. She can be
1. Las Vegas Sun: “Construction Deaths.” [Online] Available at
(Accessed Sept. 1, 2010).
2. McAllister, Patrick M., and Franz Fuerst: “New Evidence on
the Green Building Rent and Price Premium” (April 3, 2009).
[Online] Available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1372440 (
Accessed September 1, 2010).
3. Gambatese, John: “Don’t Leave Safety Out of Sustainability.”
Engineering News-Record, Nov. 18, 2009.
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Injuries, Illnesses and Fatalities”
[Online] Available at www.bls.gov/iif/osh_nwrl.htm#cfoi
(Accessed Sept. 1, 2010).
5. Schulte, P.A.: Characterizing the burden of occupational injury and disease. J Occup Environ Med 47( 6):607–622
6. Rajendran, S., J. Gambatese, and M. Behm: Impact of
green building design and construction on worker safety and
health. Journal of Construction Engineering and Management
135( 10):1058 (2009).
7. New York City Department of Environmental Protection:
“Notice of Adoption of Rules for Citywide Construction Noise
Mitigation.” [Online] Available at http://nyc.gov/html/dep/pdf/
noise_constr_rule.pdf (Accessed Sept. 1, 2010).
8. Green Resource Center: “High Volume Fly Ash Concrete.” [Online] Available at www.greenresourcecenter.org/
MaterialSheets Word/FlyAshConcrete.pdf (Accessed Sept.
9. Kats, Greg, Leon Alevantis, Adam Berman, Evan Mills,
and Jeff Perlman: “The Costs and Financial Benefits of
Green Buildings: A Report to California’s Sustainable Building Task Force” (October 2003).
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