PtDThe National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) says those interested in construction safety and health and Prevention through Design will want to know about a new pilot credit posted earlier this year by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Pilot Credit Library.

Titled “Prevention through Design,” the pilot credit grew out of efforts motivated by a National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) Construction goal to integrate safety and health into green rating systems. 

The USGBC promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built, and operated.

What is Prevention through Design?

From the NIOSH website:

“The aim of Prevention through Design is to prevent occupational injuries, illnesses, fatalities, and exposures by eliminating hazards and minimizing risks to workers in the design and re-design of facilities; work methods; processes; equipment and tools; and products. Eliminating hazards and controlling risks to workers 'at the source' or as early as possible in the life cycle of items or workplaces is the goal. This includes the design, redesign and retrofit of work premises, structures, tools, facilities, equipment, machinery, products, substances, work processes and the organization of work.”

It's not easy being green

Builders and designers interested in creating safe, green, and sustainable commercial and residential buildings face many challenges in the United States. The NIOSH Construction and Prevention through Design (PtD) programs are collaborating on efforts to increase the use of building designs and construction practices that address safety and health hazards during all the stages of a building: pre-design; design; construction; occupancy and maintenance; and demolition.

What is green construction?

The EPA defines green construction as “the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort. Green building is also known as a sustainable or high performance building.”

Why is green construction important to occupational safety and health?

  • In 2011, 71% of construction businesses reported using at least one green technology or practice and more than half were involved in improving energy efficiency within their establishments or reducing creation of waste materials.
  • Most of the rating systems for building environmental, energy and/or sustainable quality address some aspects of occupational health, but what they address is limited and does not specifically address safety.
  • None of the rating systems for building environmental, energy and/or sustainable quality categories directly mentions construction, operation, or maintenance worker safety.
  • We have an opportunity to integrate occupational health and safety into the design so that workers in construction and maintenance, building occupants and demolition specialists can be kept safe and healthy.
  • Occupational health and environmental health can benefit each other by working collaboratively.

How to find out more

NIOSH has a number of resources available to help support and improve green construction:

NIOSH Perspectives on Sustainable Buildings: Green...and SAFE 
The white paper, “NIOSH Perspectives on Sustainable Buildings: Green … and SAFE” was written in preparation of a meeting between NIOSH’s Director and its Office of Construction Safety and Health (CSH), and the President and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in February 2011. That first meeting inaugurated a relationship through which we have exchanged information and developed an understanding of our roles and responsibilities in green and sustainable construction. Because we believe that the white paper paved the way for what has become an effective working relationship between us, it is provided for historical context to highlight NIOSH’s commitment to working with USGBC and other stakeholders engaged in construction safety. An important outcome of our working together is a soon-to-be published pilot credit in USGBC’s Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) rating system that integrates occupational safety and health concepts. The content, findings, and views contained in the white paper were developed to initiate the work with an important partner; they are not intended, however, to represent a final program or policy statement by NIOSH. Readers should recognize that the white paper was developed several years ago, and any scientific information, citations, or position statements have not been updated since the time it was written.

Life Cycle Safety – What does it mean and why is it important? 
The term Life Cycle Safety describes the need to comprehensively address building-related occupational safety and health risks for all affected worker groups across all life cycle stages.

Other Resources:

Green and Healthy Jobs (CPWR - The Center for Construction Research and Training)

U.S. Green Building Council

The Safety and Health of Construction Workers on Green Projects: A systematic review of the literature and green construction rating system analysis

Prevention through Design LEED BD+C: Core and Shell | v4 - LEED v4

Prevention through Design LEED BD+C: New Construction | v3 - LEED 2009