On April 1, 2010, OSHA sponsored a green jobs information session. The purpose of the session was to describe OSHA’s green job efforts and discuss workplace hazards associated with green jobs. A blog post written here provided a less-than-enthusiastic review of the event.

There were a few shining moments, however. One highlight was the presentation given by Don Ellenberger, Environmental Hazard Training Director from The Center for Construction Research and Training (formerly known as The Center to Protect Workers’ Rights (CPWR)), concerning the safety and health outlook for workers. He reminded us that the U.S. Green Building Council’s internationally-recognized green building certification system (aka Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)) verifies that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance in energy savings, water efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, and improved indoor environmental quality.

Despite this altruistic system to improve building occupant health and productivity, Mr. Ellenberger made a strong, clear statement regarding green buildings.

There currently is a blind spot in sustainable design practice when it comes to worker safety and health. There is tremendous focus placed on materials, energy and the environment, but designers typically give little, if any, consideration to the safety and health of the people who install the green features or build the projects.

Mr. Ellenberger referred us to research conducted and published by Sathyanarayanan (Sathy) Rajendran and colleagues from Oregon State University concerning the impacts of green building design. Here is an excerpt from their October 2009 article discussing impacts to worker safety and health.

There appears to be little or no difference between green and nongreen projects in terms of construction worker safety and health. With both green and nongreen buildings having the same safety performance, a question arises as to whether LEED buildings should be labeled as sustainable buildings.

I see the findings of the published research as incredibly important to the ongoing pursuit (or battle, depending on the day) to promote construction worker health and safety (or, maybe, other job categories, too). Obviously, so did Dr. Rajendran as evidenced by another October 2009 article promoting a sustainable construction safety and health (SCSH) rating system used to “rate projects based on the importance given to construction worker safety and health and the degree of implementation of safety and health elements.”

The SCSH rating system, developed using a Delphi survey comprising experienced safety and health professionals, consists of a total of 50 safety and health elements organized into 13 categories. The system can be used as a tool to “develop and plan construction safety and health programs and evaluate the potential safety performance of construction projects.”

What a great idea! This takes a LEED-like approach to rating worker safety and health.

Now, how do we roll out this good idea with LEED-like flare and fanfare such that occupational safety and health becomes as attractive and interesting to the masses as the concept of green buildings?

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