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Going Green: Safe and Healthy Jobs

Categories: Green

wind turbinesGreen jobs—good for the environment, good for the economy. But are green jobs good for workers? The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and its partners recently launched the Going Green: Safe and Healthy Jobs initiative to make sure that green jobs are good for workers by integrating worker safety and health into “green jobs” and environmental sustainability.

Green jobs, which have been defined broadly as jobs that help improve the environment and enhance sustainability, offer opportunities as well as challenges for workers. Examples of green jobs include installation and maintenance of solar panels and generators; construction and maintenance of wind energy turbines; jobs related to recycling; jobs related to the manufacture of green products; and jobs where green products are used in traditional fields such as agriculture, healthcare, and the service sector. In some instances, the hazards to workers may be similar to those in established industries. For example, the safety and health issues involved in building wind turbines may be similar to those for constructing a multi-story building. However, some green and sustainable practices may pose new health concerns for workers, such as the introduction of “green” substitutes for cleaning solvents (see NIOSH blog Multifaceted Approach to Assess Indoor Environmental Quality).

In developing a green economy in the United States, including through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), new jobs are being created in industries such as energy, utilities, construction, and manufacturing. The new focus, coupled with the move in the U.S. towards energy efficiency and more environmentally-friendly practices known as environmental sustainability, is resulting in changes to traditional jobs and the creation of new kinds of occupations. As we make technological advances in industry, we need to remain vigilant in protecting workers against emerging hazards. These changes may also present us with the opportunity to eliminate hazards through planning, organization, and engineering – a concept known at NIOSH as Prevention through Design (PtD). For additional perspectives on making green jobs safer, please read our forthcoming issue of PtD In Motion, the newsletter of the Prevention through Design initiative, which will be posted soon on the Going Green webpage.

As the Nation acts quickly to train workers for new occupations and new ways of working, we have unprecedented opportunities:

  • to enhance the safety and health protection of the American workforce
  • to expand and apply our knowledge in occupational safety and health to new workplaces, processes, and products being formed each day
  • to ensure the training and re-training of the workforce that will fill these new jobs includes relevant safety and health information.

An upcoming event in NIOSH’s new initiative is the Making Green Jobs Safe workshop, which will be held from December 14 to 16, 2009, in Washington, DC. The workshop will bring together invited participants and a limited number of members of the public to help frame the issues around incorporating occupational safety and health into green and sustainability efforts.

As we mature the initiative and prepare for the workshop, NIOSH is drafting a working definition of green jobs and we are interested in your ideas and suggestions. NIOSH is interested also in determining how illnesses, injuries or deaths associated with the emerging green economy would be quantified. For this, again, we should define our terms, and we will incorporate definitions determined by our colleagues at the U.S. Department of Labor, who are working too to define terms. We offer the following definitions for your consideration and comment. We will track the comments and offer modifications in the definition as we move forward.

  1. Van Jones, founder of Green for All, defines green jobs as a blue-collar job upgraded to better respect the environment
  2. The Pew Charitable Trust, in the publication The Clean Energy Economy: Repowering Jobs, Businesses and Investments Across America This document in PDF format, described five industry categories comprising the clean energy economy. These include: clean energy, energy efficiency, environmentally friendly production, conservation and pollution mitigation, and training and support.
  3. JA Gambatese, S Rajendran and M Behm in their paper, “Green Design & Construction” note that “green” and “sustainable” are terms that have been used synonymously in scientific literature. These authors, however, make efforts to distinguish green from sustainable jobs with the following for the construction industry:”Green is a term used to refer to primarily the design and construction practices that impact the environment (e.g., the soil, water, air, plants and animals). Sustainability is a broader concept that, in addition to the environmental aspect, addresses the continuity of economic, resource and social aspects of human society. For a green building to be sustainable, consideration must be given to more than just protecting the environment…a building can be called sustainable only if sustainability principles are applied throughout its life cycle…. (p. 29)”

Are any of these definitions sufficient for our needs in fostering worker safety and health practices in this emerging field of study? Are there better ways of defining our terms that you would like to offer?

As we define our terms, we must also consider the following types of work:

  • Traditional jobs that use green products (e.g., a plumber installing a low flow toilet)
  • Green jobs that encompass tasks from traditional jobs (e.g., solar panel installers)
  • Jobs that are relatively new stemming from an increasing focus on energy efficiency (e.g., wind turbine installer).

The matrix presented here is a framework to help us think through these issues. It illustrates how our knowledge about old and new hazards intersects with challenges created by new technologies and adaptations of work activities to perform green jobs. We hope that you find it helpful.

green jobs framework diagramWe look forward to your comments and suggestions to help inform the upcoming conference and NIOSH’s Going Green initiative.

Dr. Branche is the Acting Director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. July 1, 2009 at 4:03 pm ET  -   Kent Martz

    I am all in favor of doing what we can do to research, develop and promote the use of renewable energy. I am concerned however that the focus and support will be on new companies emerging into this sector. I hope the administration does not forget the existing companies that can also play a dey role in this development.

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT July 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm ET  -   Christine Branche

      The green economy provides opportunities for new and existing companies. Representatives from industry, labor, academia, government, and NGOs will be invited to the NIOSH “Making Green Jobs Safe” workshop in December 2009. NIOSH recognizes the unique experience and important perspective established companies bring to the challenge we face of making green jobs safe jobs.

      Link to this comment

  2. July 1, 2009 at 4:12 pm ET  -   James Celenza

    Green During Construction

    Expanding the reach of green building to include air toxics.

    The fundamental goal of this project is to encourage institutions, developers, designers, and professional organizations to adopt a Green during construction pledge to the benefit of the surrounding community and workers and visitors on the site by reducing both particulate matter, dust and silicates, and toxic gases, like CO.

    Construction can be dirty work but we have an opportunity to make it cleaner. The green building movement focuses on constructing energy efficient buildings and using less toxic building materials.

    Organizations such as LEED and NEEP have developed certifications that are gaining adherents and advocates among building investors, designers, developers, and architects. Investors are increasingly requiring designers and builders to meet these certifications. And many firms, banks, design firms, stipulate that they will only rent space in a “green certified” building.

    While there are obvious benefits to this green building movement what is left out of this approach is air quality while structures are being built.

    Air Quality Concerns.

    Carbon monoxide, fine and ultrafine particles, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), sulfur and nitrogen oxides, benzene are emitted in significant amounts by diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles and equipment on construction sites. Gasoline powered vehicles and equipment produce prodigious amounts of carbon monoxide (CO), a lethal gas. Two thousand seven hundred CO emergency poisonings from worksites occur each year.

    Gasoline emissions have been shown to exceed one in one hundred thousand cancer risk thresholds in northeast urban areas. Prolonged exposure to diesel exhaust can exacerbate asthma and other lung and cardiovascular diseases, and probably increases the risk of lung cancer.

    During construction soil, granite, and concrete will be dug, drilled crushed, impacted, abraded. Soil, granite, and concrete contain crystalline silica (sand). Occupational exposure to silica produces silicosis, a chronic, disabling lung disease characterized by nodules of scar tissue in the lungs. Each year nearly 300 workers die from silicosis in the US, hundreds more are disabled. Between 3000-7000 new cases occur each year. In addition, crystalline silica is carcinogenic. Construction, more than any other industry, leads in premature mortality (years of potential life lost) from silicosis.

    Why not Green During the Construction Phase?

    This is an opportunity to directly address the health and environmental impact of stationary equipment and motor vehicles, of dust and silicate exposures, and to integrate worker and community health into a seamless package.

    RICOSH in coordination with the American Lung Association of RI, and with the official support of the Air Resources Unit of RI DEM have begun to develop protocols that integrate air pollution issues into the Green Building approach. The fundamental goal of this project is to encourage institutions, developers, designers, and professional organizations to adopt a Green during construction pledge and include key parameters of all three metrics in bid and contract specs for construction projects.

    Restrict idling of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

    Apply dust suppression controls.

    Reduce diesel and gasoline exhaust emissions.

    This would benefit the surrounding community and workers and visitors on the site by reducing particulate matter, dust and silicates, and toxic gases, like CO. In addition this approach will achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

    Link to this comment

  3. July 1, 2009 at 4:20 pm ET  -   Dr. Mahmoud Algarhy

    Green jobs is the message for every healthworker to do in this time …it will be excelant task to him.

    Link to this comment

  4. July 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm ET  -   Alice Freund

    We need better quality control of construction materials that contain recycled ingredients Im not sure that any agency oversees this. It sounds like a great idea to recycle materials into new construction, but we can end up with worker and public exposure to chemicals that we never would have guessed were in the products we use.

    For example, the New York State Dept of health found lead in brand new steel, only by coincidence (see Case Study An Assessment of Metal Recycling Worker Lead Exposure Associated with Cutting Uncoated New Steel Scrap. Authors: Julia Zhu et al, May 2009, JOEH).

    Another example: crumb rubber used for playing fields contains not just recycled tires, but also many other products- who knows what products and what the ingredients are from one day to the next. One company says they take recycled sneakers, but they dont accept the ones with mercury in them (the ones that light up). Who is checking?

    Using recycled material is a great way for manufacturers of construction materials to save money, but what will be the hazards of so many unknown products down the road?

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT July 6, 2009 at 4:08 pm ET  -   Christine Branche

      Thank you for your comment. You make very valid points. One of the break-out discussion groups at the December Making Green Jobs Safe workshop will be devoted to the topic of Recycling/Waste Management. We will share your comments with the planning committee.

      Link to this comment

  5. July 6, 2009 at 9:57 am ET  -   Carolyn Allen

    It’s important to consider “earth” as a worker who needs protection at the same time humans are protected. After all, we cannot thrive unless our lifeboat stays afloat! We all thrive is the earth thrives, and threats to natural resources, wildlife, habitat threatens not only the immediate worker, but all workers to come. The environment matters to our occupational health and safety in the short term as well as the long term.

    Link to this comment

  6. July 7, 2009 at 8:16 am ET  -   Steven Hecker

    I’m glad to see that NIOSH and others are looking at definitions and categorization of hazards in approaching green jobs. But I have some concerns that we get carried away with the sexiness of the new “green” and forget other major areas. For instance why aren’t jobs connected with mass transit considered green? We know about the hazards of many of these jobs, but they are no less important to environmental improvement than those that are mentioned in solar, wind, etc. It is always disappointing to see how few “green” products like light rail cars are manufactured in the U.S., yet we have vast underutilized manufacturing capacity that could be put to this use. I realize these are economic/industrial policy questions, but if we are to take a broad view of environmental/occupational health protection, these questions may be even more important than specific hazard prevention strategies.

    And how does one get to be part of the December conference?

    Thank you.

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT July 7, 2009 at 3:20 pm ET  -   Christine Branche

      In addition to assuring that worker safety and health is integrated into green jobs and environmental sustainability, NIOSH continues to be activity engaged in stimulating innovative, sector-based research and improved workplace practices through the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) partnership program.

      Additional details about the “Making Green Jobs Safe” workshop, including registration information, will be posted to the NIOSH website by September, 2009.

      Link to this comment

  7. July 7, 2009 at 10:04 am ET  -   Peter Dooley

    There will be an exciting opportunity for folks to discuss these issues of integrating H&S into green jobs at this annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in Philadelphia Nov 8-11. The OHS Section and the Environment Section will co-sponsor three special sessions on Blue-Green Alliances during the meeting.Additionally there will be a special day long program on H&S aspects of construction jobs including green projects on Nov 6 followed by a H&S Activist Summit on Nov 7 in Philly. You can see the OHS Section program at [http://www.defendingscience.org/upload/OHS-draft-agenda-June-22-2009.pdf]

    We look forward to seeing you there in these exciting times for H&S!

    Link to this comment

  8. July 8, 2009 at 3:05 pm ET  -   Stan

    I think it is fantastic how we are using renewable energy and going green in so many ways. I think we also need to do things like reducing our energy usage, like installing geothermal heat pumps.

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  9. July 9, 2009 at 7:22 am ET  -   Masoud

    I’m glad to find that NIOSH is looking at definitions and categorization this subject. I think Green jobs is the important message for all healthworker to do in this time, we can do it by the way which WHO mentioned to it: think globally act locally.

    Link to this comment

  10. July 13, 2009 at 1:41 pm ET  -   Ada

    Green For All has a few different articles on the definition of a green-collar jobs. Here are a couple of examples:

    ◦http://hotjobs.yahoo.com/career-articles-what_are_green_collar_jobs-874;ylt=AkE4iQ3au66OppyW1R0_._aPSKIX
    ◦http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/522/green-jobs.html

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  11. July 15, 2009 at 1:44 pm ET  -   Joan Mullane

    I think green jobs is an excellent idea for health care workers, however the environmental smog from vehicles in the cities is surely not helping with cases of Asthma and other pulmonary system disorders. Our environment outside needs to be cleaned up along with other hazardous wastes being dumped everywhere. Excellent effort!!!!

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  12. July 18, 2009 at 12:02 pm ET  -   John Silver

    We need better quality control of construction materials that contain recycled ingredients.

    Link to this comment

  13. July 21, 2009 at 11:15 am ET  -   Scott

    I think the research and promotion of renewable energy sources is a great step forward. Keeping this in mind, the safety of these jobs must be top priority.

    Link to this comment

  14. July 26, 2009 at 10:36 am ET  -   Charlie

    i really can’t see how going green is going to be any good for workers. But i guess with the environment the way it is something must be done.

    Link to this comment

    • AUTHOR COMMENT July 28, 2009 at 10:16 am ET  -   Christine Branche

      Thank you for your comment. As part of the Going Green: Safe and Healthy Jobs Initiative, NIOSH is exploring ways in which going green can be beneficial to both workers and the environment. For some examples of where this is already happening in industry, please read the July issue of the Prevention Through Design newsletter PtD In Motion, linked on our Initiative’s web page.

      We are hoping that readers of this blog, like you, will offer more suggestions for how to define “green jobs,” how to maximize the co-benefits that green practices can provide to workers and the environment, and how to enhance collaboration between energy conservation, environment, and occupational safety and health professionals to strengthen all three disciplines.

      Link to this comment

  15. July 27, 2009 at 5:21 pm ET  -   Sandra Dearlove

    Interesting Blog, I think its very important we promote the use of cleaning products in all industries, owning a cleaning business I am big believer in Green Cleaning. I work with all my clients to arrange recycling and power saving options. Eco-friendly products are widely available although it’s important you pick the right one lots of imposters.

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    • AUTHOR COMMENT July 28, 2009 at 10:27 am ET  -   Christine Branche

      Thank you for your comment. It is important that cleaning products are both green AND safe. Workers and consumers should read product labels (of green products, too) and material safety data sheets to gain information about the health hazards of the cleaning products and specific steps they can take to protect themselves from risks.

      Link to this comment

  16. August 10, 2009 at 6:41 am ET  -   Zac

    I think the Government should spend more of the tax payers money in developing and promoting green products that will save our planet, its best for us now living at present and for our children’s children in the future, TODAY is the right time to start, lets not wait for future discoveries, invest on what we currently have now and improve it.

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  17. August 10, 2009 at 8:10 pm ET  -   Steven

    Green jobs will slowly move into the limelight as other less effective means of production are replaced. Green jobs will just be jobs in the future, hopefully still working to help the environment.

    Link to this comment

  18. August 28, 2009 at 7:08 pm ET  -   Elizabeth Nichols

    You raise a good point that there are a variety of known risks and an unknown number of unknown risks with green jobs. We can compare many of the risks to current jobs in the construction industry and other types of manufacturing jobs because the process for production of, say, wind turbines, compares to other construction and energy jobs. But, there are many unknowns, such as the effect over the long term of the alternative chemicals used in green dry cleaning.

    This is an excellent topic for the upcoming NIOSH workshop and we will publicize it to our members at the Green Research Council’s sites.

    Link to this comment

  19. October 17, 2009 at 3:35 pm ET  -   ContractorBids

    hmmmm I like this post but I would love to see some on how to save on construction costs in this tough market

    Link to this comment

  20. November 8, 2009 at 8:21 am ET  -   John

    The move in the U.S. (and the UK) towards energy efficiency and more environmentally-friendly practices has to be a huge step in the right direction. John, UK.

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  21. November 22, 2009 at 1:42 am ET  -   Carol Hansen

    I am so happy to see more and more people worried about the condition of this planet. It is sick as well as the people who live on it. Where is the place to start to save it? On my blob at [http://EcoFriendlyGreenEarth.com] I’m trying to give good information about what we all can do. We need to start yesterday.

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  22. December 31, 2009 at 5:19 pm ET  -   Carolyn Jones

    The biodiesel industry is a new, green area of growth. But it also requires the use of many hazardous chemicals to produce the biodiesel fuel, and employee health and safety needs to considered when designing and building facilities. There are also ergonomic hazards associated with handling containers of grease and vegetable oil. Many of the biodiesel producers are small mom & pop type outfits, without safety knowledge. This industry needs safety guidelines.

    Link to this comment

  23. March 3, 2010 at 4:19 am ET  -   ARPS Cleaning Services

    What a coincidence that I happened on this site. My company is research wind energy here is South Africa as we are having a power crisis at the moment. I believe that the introduction of green energy would certainly help produce jobs, in any country.

    Keep the faith

    Link to this comment

  24. October 1, 2011 at 10:42 am ET  -   John

    I love that geothermal,solar and wind are making headway in regards to green jobs. Of course I want the workers to be safe but at the same time I don’t want it to hamper or impede progress. I work in many OSHA approved facilities and the tiniest thing seems to be scrutinized. I talk about these things at http://www.geothermalguy.com and http://www.facebook.com/geothermalguy Costs to the end user are so high they are sometimes prohibitive. I would like to see the regulation side and contractor side come to agreement so that prices of Green methods can stabilize and even be affordable for everyone.

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  25. October 22, 2011 at 7:14 pm ET  -   Emergengy Plumping Chicago

    I am all for green energy but green energy is still costly, and why should these green jobs be any more hazardous than existing jobs? As long as proper safety and health issues are adhered to there shouldn’t be a problem.

    Link to this comment

  26. March 4, 2014 at 3:08 am ET  -   Bruce Santucci

    Jobs are a critical piece to our struggling economy. Installation jobs for green energy initiatives could be as prevalent as cable installers or satellite dish installers have been.

    Unfortunately, these installer positions may not pay very well or be relegated to one younger age group (with the occasional exception) as other installation-type jobs have been. Examples of green jobs include installation and maintenance of solar panels and generators; construction and maintenance of wind energy turbines; jobs related to recycling; jobs related to the manufacture of green products; and jobs where green products are used in traditional fields such as agriculture, healthcare, and the service sector.

    Hopefully, America will begin to develop and consider molten salt nuclear reactors to the ‘green energy’ revolution. For example, Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors (LFTR) which are far safer and cheaper to build and that don’t require uranium or plutonium. Building one or two per city in the USA would create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.

    Also, you mention solar panels as if they are the only type of solar device possible. You couldn’t be more distracted. Have you heard of the Stirling Solar Plant?

    It’s based on a 100+-year old method of generating power but has been updated with current technology that makes it 12Xs more efficient at creating electrical power than current PV panels. They are suitable for home power plants and can be built by a single individual during a weekend for less than $150 with no specialized tools.

    Link to this comment

  27. April 23, 2014 at 4:22 am ET  -   kumara

    Good explanation on the interesting study area green jobs. Though many people think it would not be economical, strategic sustainability would lead them to be more economical! Good and valuable information!

    Link to this comment

  28. April 24, 2014 at 4:21 pm ET  -   Dan Edwards

    The technical advances responsible have been driven by public policies and industry’s responses to them. Governments spend a relatively modest amount on renewable-energy research, roughly US$5 billion per year globally, which is less than one-tenth the amount allocated to health research. But government incentives are essential for market growth; they drive private-sector investments in clean-energy technologies of about $250 billion per year globally.

    Link to this comment

  29. July 13, 2014 at 12:40 pm ET  -   Marcus Wilson

    Great to see people think better about the condition of this planet. We at [company name removed] always think about those matters as company that focuses on sustainability in London and people’s life’s.

    Link to this comment

  30. July 25, 2014 at 2:47 pm ET  -   Critelli's Fine Furiture

    Businesses are moving forward, some more quickly than others, and industries as a whole such as the Sustainable Furniture Council, to whom companies such as [name removed] have joined. Some furniture manufacturers use sawdust to heat the warehouse and other clever uses of warehouse castoffs.

    Link to this comment

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