Is Sustainability Hazardous?

Recent studies have turned up a correlation between construction aimed at LEED certification and worker's injuries.  In an article in Engineering News Record Mountain States, Katie Frasier describes a pair of studies that found an increased number of injuries associated with certain construction activities often performed on LEED projects.

Some of the reported hazards included "perceived increased risks" of falls from roofs while installing photo-voltaic (PV) solar panels; falls due to installing or working on high reflectance white roofing materials; falls from installing skylights and atriums to meet daylighting requirements; and increased cuts, abrasions and lacerations from handling construction waste - specifically, from dumpster-diving to retrieve mistakenly-trashed recyclable materials.

When the initial study revealed the basic correlation between LEED certification in increased injuries, they did a follow-up study to identify specific risks and uncover the nature of the risk.  The study offers a list of risks, and recommends possible mitigations (quoted extensively in the article).  Many of the suggestions seem very sensible, but not necessarily obvious: they really needed to be pointed out.

This list of risks and mitigations - to my eye - also suggests that some of the increase is due to construction crews not yet being experienced at handling materials and working in the situations they encounter installing skylights and heavy PV panels.

 In that regard, manufacturers can help.  Makers of materials associated with these increased risks may well consider adding to their packaging precautions and safety suggestions based on this study (and others like it that are sure to follow).    Manufacturers might even consider doing some studies of their own, aimed at increasing workers' ability to install their products safely.

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Michael Chusid has been a consultant to over 100 successful organizations in the building products industry. He serves an international clientele from offices in Los Angeles, California.
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