Sustainable Design & Construction


Sustainable Design & Construction: Incorporating Worker Safety

Most of the hazards on regular (non-sustainable) building construction projects are the same as those on sustainable buildings, but there can be increased exposure to the hazards in sustainable buildings. For example, sustainable buildings put workers at risk of strains, sprains, punctures and cuts due to the increased material handling such as segregationof different types of materials for recycling.

Sustainable buildings also introduce fall hazards (open holes in roofs) due to increased use of atriums and skylights to utilize natural light and reduce energy consumption. The whole idea of safety and health management is to reduce the exposure, not increase it. Sustainable buildings tend to do the latter.

Based on a pilot study we conducted on a LEED building, we found that the project had both positive and negative impacts on worker safety and health. Indoor air quality and less hazardous material credits of the LEED system help not only occupant health, but also construction worker health.

However, the waste material separation and recycling efforts for the project created more congestion on the site and led to a construction worker injury. Based on an analysis of 86 LEED and non-LEED construction projects, it was found that there was not a statistically significant difference in safety performance between the two types of projects. More detailed research is necessary to analyze each green design aspect of a project and to correlate them to safety performance.

New information has been made available about materials with regard to their composition and environmental impact. As a result, contractors are able to choose materials based on their impact on sustainability. This hasmade the use of some materials (such as certain types of paints and sealants) standard practice whereas previously other materials would be used.

To be truly sustainable, buildings should have superior safety performance in addition to superior environmental performance. Current buildings rated as sustainable may not be truly sustainable when considering worker safety and health. To label a building as sustainable, the construction industry should include worker safety and health in the project life cycle. This can be achieved with the Sustainable Construction Safety and Health (SCSH) rating system.

The SCSH rating system consists of 50 safety and health elements, grouped into 13 categories that should be implemented through the combined efforts of the project team. The system can be used as a tool to help sustain the safety and health of construction workers not only during the project, but during future projects and their post-construction career as well.

The elements in the rating system require the joint efforts of all parties involved in a project (owner, designer, general contractor and subcontractors). To become certified through this rating system, some elements need a team effort. Just one party being proactive and safety conscious does not help a project get certified.

For example, consider the requirement of designing for safety for the project. The owner must approve the budget associated with any extra cost related to designing for safety, the designers must include the consideration of construction worker safety and health in their designs, and the contractors must participate by providing input on constructability and jobsite safety and health hazards.

SCSH was developed as a standalone rating system to be used alongside LEED, but could also be integrated within that rating system. Integrating it within LEED would require collaboration and support from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The SCSH system was validated based on 25 real-time construction projects and was found to accurately represent the safety performance of projects. The higher-ranked projects (higher credits) had lower injury rates.

Several elements focus on the design for safety efforts: designer selection based on safety experience; safety and health hazard identification in drawings; safety andhealth during the conceptual planning phase; constructability review; designing for worker safety and health; life cycle safety design review; safety checklist for designers; safety training for designers; and engineering controls for health hazards.

Efforts are underway nationally to integrate worker safety into green jobs. Based on these efforts, and additional training and education, we can counter these hazards. The SCSH rating system would be a good tool to counter these hazards and have a truly sustainable building.

Sathy Rajendran, Ph.D., M.S., CSP, LEED AP, CRIS, is a safety specialist for Hoffman Construction Co. of Oregon. He has managed safety programs for medium and large construction projects, and his experience includes a wide variety of buildings. His research in the area of sustainability and safety has been published in ASCE and ASSE journals. Rajendran holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Civil Engineering from Oregon State University and a B.E. in Civil Engineering from Anna University in India.

John Gambatese, Ph.D., M.S., P.E., is an associate professor in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering at Oregon State University. He has worked in industry as a structural engineer for Degenkolb Associates and as a project engineer for O’Brien-Kreitzberg & Associates. He is a member of ASCE and ASSE, and actively participates on ASCE’s Prevention Through Design, Construction Site Safety and Constructability committees, and Construction Research Council. Gambatese holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Civil Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington.


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