It’s Not Easy Being Green: New Safety Considerations for Environmentally Conscious Construction
By Katie E. Gorrie
Across the globe and right in your own backyard, contractors are being asked to not only build what the client wants at a fair price, but to build environmentally conscious structures. These “green” projects focus on eco-friendly operating systems, incorporate recycled materials into building components, and strive to function with as little effect on the surrounding area as possible. This results in buildings that are both aesthetically pleasing and ecologically smart. Savvy construction professionals are also benefiting by lowering long term operational costs for clients, reducing wasted materials, and finding new uses for nontraditional, less expensive materials. For many contractors and their clients, considering the environment in construction is not a fad; it’s the future.
Along with this era of green construction and LEED certifications come new considerations for safety professionals that must be explored so as to minimize project costs, incidents and injuries, and risk exposure. With new work methods and materials, safety professionals must ensure their sites are responsive to potential hazards. Despite a client’s insistence for eco-friendly practices, it is the safety professional’s responsibility to ensure onsite conditions are ripe for productive but safe work. Worker safety simply cannot be compromised.
Lumber free and prefab components may make a building more environmentally fit, but they also can increase equipment needs and crew distribution to ensure proper handling. This may necessitate more manpower and equipment to transport and incorporate items into structures safely, thereby reducing the hazards of crushing injuries and muscle strains. Good communication between onsite superintendents and safety professionals can ensure delivery and installation of larger components is done as safely as possible.
Another major consideration for safety professionals is onsite lighting conditions. Green construction often focuses on use of natural lighting systems over artificial means. This may result in insufficient lighting conditions at certain points of the day given the absence of peak sunlight. Temporary installation of lights may be necessary to ensure job conditions can be observed.
Also, new chemicals and materials used in green construction may have different handling requirements than those traditionally used. Safety professionals should ensure workers are familiar with new products to ensure awareness of, among other things, flammability and skin exposure hazards. Proper training in handling and usage is critical to reduce the threat of injury. Suppliers can be a great resource for such instruction, given their priority is getting repeat sales for the next green project.
Due to changes in exterior and interior finishes and components, heating and cooling of buildings may be more volatile to outside temperatures and weather conditions during the construction process, thereby affecting the work environment. Freezing temperatures and humidity are just two conditions that could affect worker health. Safety professionals should recognize rapid temperature changes and address them accordingly. For example, if necessary, nontoxic de-icers can be incorporated where necessary to ensure ice is eliminated while not harming the environment.
While the above are just a sample of safety considerations for green projects, work methods and hazard analyses must start to reflect this new green philosophy. By focusing on such considerations, safety professionals can ensure their projects are not only cost efficient and better for the environment, but safe.