Safe, Green, and Sustainable Construction

Image of workers shaking hands in front of a building certified as 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 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.

The NIOSH Office of Construction Safety and Health worked the U.S. Green Building Council to develop a pilot credit titled: “Prevention through Design (PtD)”. There are two webinars that describe the pilot credit, and NIOSH provided content for and narrates both. Webinar links as well as the link to the PtD Pilot Credit are included in the ‘Where can I find out more…”section of this page.

What is Prevention through Design?

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.

What is green construction?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (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.

Where can I find out more about what NIOSH is doing on supporting and improving green construction?

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) posted a new pilot credit titled: “Prevention through Design” to its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Pilot Credit Library!

There are now two webinars available that describe the Pilot Credit, and NIOSH provided content for and narrates both. The first webinar, posted in July 2015, offers a general description of the Pilot Credit and why it is important. The second webinar, posted in May 2017, describes the intent and requirements of the LEED PtD pilot credit. It explains key concepts and provides step-by-step guidance and strategies for achieving the PtD Pilot Credit. The additional detail in the second webinar is key in helping architects and designers understand how to accomplish safety and health in designing buildings. There is also a new entry in the NIOSH Science Blog that describes the pilot credit and the webinars.

NIOSH Perspectives on Sustainable Buildings: Green…and SAFEpdf icon
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?pdf icon
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.

Integrating Occupational Safety and Health into the U.S. Green Building Council LEED New Construction Credits: A Preliminary Reportpdf icon
NIOSH and its construction industry stakeholders identified the integration of safety and health into green and sustainable construction as a priority issue. This preliminary report provides specific examples of how LEED credits could address construction and maintenance worker safety and health.

Other Resources:

[ii]CPWR: The Center for Construction Research and Training [2013]. The construction chart book. 5th ed. Silver Spring, MD: CPWR Publications, pp. 9

Page last reviewed: March 28, 2018