LEED Rating System: Its Effect on OSH Practices in Construction


Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system

LEEDLEED was originally developed as a system to define and measure green building through a set of performance standards for commercial building construction. Now, various systems address specific building uses, such as homes, schools and healthcare. There is also a rating system for existing buildings.

LEED certification is pursued by building owners and developers for various reasons. A LEED building will typically have a relatively short payback period for the additional costs. Most studies appear to indicate the payback period is less than 5 years and can be substantially less depending on various factors. After the payback, the savings can be significant.

Some aspects of green building that provide large returns are reduced absenteeism and improved worker productivity. These returns are better recognized by owners who also will be users, such as government agencies. Of course, energy savings is one of the better known means of payback. However, actual returns from incorporating LEED energy credits are sometimes not as valuable as advertised. This has been a criticism of LEED in recent years. Other reasons for pursuing LEED certification include government tax incentives, local municipality or state requirements, added marketing value, and a desire to reduce building impacts on resources and the environment.

The LEED process for new construction begins with the decision on the part of the owner(s) to build green. The intended use and function of the building is identified, and potential sites are chosen. The owner chooses the design team, and a design charrette is conducted. Once the building design is established, a decision is made regarding what level of LEED certification will be pursued. The levels (from lowest to highest) include certified, silver, gold and platinum.

Next, the project is registered with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), which is an independent organization that provides third-parOHSty professional credentials and project certification previously done by U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC (www.usgbc.org) and GBCI (www.gbci.org) websites are good resources for an in-depth discussion of the LEED process.

LEED and OHS practices

In my experience, LEED has had little to no impact on construction safety. Some aspects, such as increased use of windows and skylights, installing photovoltaics on roofs, recycling building materials with protruding rebar, sharp edges on concrete, heavy debris, have the potential to in- crease safety hazards associated with LEED buildings. If the project pursues the credit involving the development and implementation of a construction indoor air quality management plan (IAQMP), some of its aspects can help protect worker health through dust control and HazMat management.

Since environmental is one of the words composing the LEED acronym, much emphasis is placed on this issue. The main aspects include promoting energy conservation and renewable energy, which reduce air pollution. LEED also emphasizes site selection to conserve undeveloped lands and has provisions to prevent pollutants from migrating off site. Many other aspects of LEED are intended to conserve resources for future generations and to prevent environmental pollution.

Other disciplines have begun to develop their own rating systems, such as public works organizations for building sustainable roads, bridges and other infrastructure. One example of safety-related systems includes prevention through design (PTD). Another example of a system focusing on safety and health is the Sustainable Construction Safety and Health rating system.

LEED has a tremendous impact on how construction projects are planned and funded. One example of planning includes choosing the site location. A downtown site with good transportation access and contaminated soil, making it a Brownfield, would qualify for many more credits than a rural location on pristine land.

With regard to funding, opinions and studies of green building costs and  return on investment can vary greatly mainly because of the variables. A major issue is the up-front cost and the sometimes poorly defined payback time frame, which can cause owners to be apprehensive about building green. Government tax incentives are another important funding aspect. The 2005 Nevada legislature passed significant tax incentives, which the City Center project took advantage of. The project was a large contributor to Nevada becoming the state with the highest green building square footage per capita in 2010.

Impact of LEED internationally

Many countries have their own green building rating systems modeled after LEED. World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) is a union of national green building councils. It began after a meeting of eight countries with green building interests and was incorporated in 2002. USGBC is the oldest of these councils and is a member.

The WorldGBC facilitates the formation of international green building councils by assisting in forming strong organizations and by helping position them in their markets. Once the local GBC is established, the WorldGBC helps promote local green building actions to encourage sustainability and to address global issues that the locality may be impacting, such as climate change.

Guiding clients pursuing LEED certification

If OHS professionals can position themselves as the go-to professionals for writing these plans by working with local architects, building departments and the ICC (if the IgCC IAQMP requirement remains), we may be able to influence the contents of the IAQMP to address OHS issues. OHS professionals should interact more with commissioning agents (e.g., Building Commissioning Association) and local green building organizations (e.g.,local USGBC chapters) to show them our value and how we can add to their services.

Dale Walsh, CSP, CIH, LEED AP BD+C, is a U.S. Green Building  Council Nevada Chapter director and the Ad Hoc Existing Building Committee chair. He is also a founding member of AIHA’s Green Building Working Group. Dale has been a consultant for more than 25 years and holds a master’s in Toxicology and Industrial Hygiene from the University of Arizona. He is past president of the Southern Nevada ASSE and AIHA chapters, and was named Safety Professional of the Year in 2008-09 by ASSE’s Southern Nevada Chapter. He owns his own consulting company and may be reached at dwalsh@walshcih.com.


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