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 program and others are collaborating 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 with 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 webinars. You can read more about the Pilot Credit in this NIOSH Science Blog.

Defining Prevention through Design (PtD)

The aim of Prevention through Design is to prevent occupational injuries, illnesses, fatalities, and exposures by eliminating hazards and minimizing worker risks 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.

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.”

The Value of Green Construction in Occupational Safety and Health

  • In 2011, 71% of construction businesses reported using at least one green technology or practice. More than half of the businesses were working on 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, operations, 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 and environmental health can benefit each other by practitioners working collaboratively.

More NIOSH Resources on Supporting and Improving Green Construction

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

NIOSH Perspectives on Sustainable Buildings: Green…and SAFE
The white paper, “NIOSH Perspectives on Sustainable Buildings: Green … and SAFE” was written in preparation for 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 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.

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.

Integrating Occupational Safety and Health into the U.S. Green Building Council LEED New Construction Credits: A Preliminary Report
NIOSH and its construction industry partners identified the integration of safety and health into green and sustainable construction as a priority. 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