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Going Green: Safe and Healthy Jobs 2

Posted on by Matt Gillen, MS, CIH, Pietra Check, MPH and Christine Branche, PhD

Considerations for making green and sustainable jobs safe and healthy for workers

green jobs logoGreen jobs and sustainable practices are being used more and more in a wide range of industry sectors and products, from farms to office buildings. There are no official definitions for green jobs and sustainable work practices, so we define them broadly here as jobs and practices that help to improve the environment. For the purposes of this blog, such jobs could include (a) new types of jobs related to green technologies, processes, outcomes and products; (b) existing jobs where green practices and technologies are being introduced; and (c) existing jobs that create products viewed as important to the green economy. These types of jobs and practices all aim to reduce energy use and environmental impacts while preserving social and economic benefits. But do “green” and “sustainable” also mean safe and healthy for workers?

As green and sustainable practices become more common in the U.S, there is an opportunity to promote worker safety and health as a fundamental dimension of true sustainability. A sustainable product, process or technology should not only protect the environment and the consumer but also the worker. Green jobs must be safe jobs.

In December, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) sponsored the Making Green Jobs Safe Workshop (see http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/PtD/greenjobs.html for more information and links to video). At the Workshop, NIOSH presented six ideas about the steps needed to protect both workers and the environment by making occupational (worker) safety and health concepts part of green and sustainability developments. These ideas are explained below. NIOSH invites you to respond and to add your ideas by replying to this blog.

1. Define, categorize, and track green jobs

Defining and categorizing green and sustainable jobs and work practices is a necessary first step for identifying and understanding how green jobs affect worker safety and health. Researchers, demographers, and industry partners need to work together to develop ways to define and keep track of injuries, illnesses, and hazards associated with green jobs. Standard terms will reduce confusion, improve information-sharing, and make it possible to see the worker safety and health benefits and problems that arise over time.

2. Evaluate all green jobs, practices, processes, and products for hazards to worker safety and health

Sustainable practices and green technologies, products and processes need to be evaluated for worker safety and health just like any other new job, product or practice. Such evaluation can identify work-related hazards that can then be prevented or controlled. It can also help identify those green practices, products and technologies that improve worker safety and health so that they can be widely promoted.

In addition, the safety and health community can do more to evaluate and understand the energy costs and environmental impacts of safety and health practices. Green jobs, processes, products, and technologies can all benefit from research to find out how best to keep a high degree of safety and health while improving energy efficiency and reducing environmental impacts.

1-Bromopropane as a green chemistry solution

1-Bromopropane (also called n-propyl bromide) was introduced as an environmentally-friendly alternative to ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) for many different uses, including as a solvent for industrial operations and for dry cleaning and aerosol sprays.

As use increased, studies have shown nervous system, reproductive and other effects in exposed workers and evidence of various types of cancer in lab animals. There are no federal exposure limits yet available for the substance, but the Environmental Protection Agency has restricted certain uses and imposed conditions for others so as to reduce potential exposures.

This example shows that even environmentally beneficial products need evaluation for worker safety and health concerns before widespread use is encouraged. (See related blog 1-BP: A Potential Occupational Hazard)

3. Integrate worker safety and health, energy conservation and environmental protection efforts

Occupational safety and health, energy conservation and environmental protection professionals often work separately from one another, which increases the chances that costs and risks will be unintentionally shifted from the environment to workers or vice versa. Working together would help these professionals better coordinate approaches to sustainability to make sure that workers, the environment and energy resources are all protected.

Protecting indoor air quality during construction

Occupational and environmental practice both use hierarchies (levels of preferred options) for risk control. Both view controlling risks at the source—whether worker exposures or environmental emissions—as the best option. Understanding that these approaches are similar can help with joint decision-making so that green practices protect both workers and the environment.

For instance, one way to protect indoor air quality as new green buildings are constructed is to seal air circulation vents so that dust from construction operations doesn’t build up inside. This has benefits for future building occupants but it doesn’t offer any benefits for construction workers as they finish the building. An alternative would be for construction contractors to control dust at the source by using powered tools (e.g., masonry saws) that capture the dust as the tool generates it. Capturing the dust at the tool before it contaminates the air protects both the construction workers and the future building occupants.

4. Plan early for prevention

Considering safety and health at the beginning of a project during the design phase and when making decisions about what equipment and materials to use are important, cost-effective strategies. At NIOSH, these strategies are called Prevention through Design (PtD). The principles of PtD can be used to achieve sustainability through early planning to ensure that the resulting health, energy and environmental benefits can be at their highest levels for workers, the public and the environment.

5. Make safety and health part of green jobs training

Training will play an important role in helping workers develop the new skills needed to transition to new types of green jobs or to learn how to use new products and technologies in their existing jobs. Safety and health should be considered an essential component for all green job training, in addition to training on the skills workers need to complete job tasks.

6. Add safety and health to green benchmarks

There are many different types of measurements and benchmarks to evaluate whether practices are green and sustainable, for example, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™. While these are widely used, almost none of the measures directly considers occupational safety and health impacts. Researchers and practitioners need to work together to develop ways to determine whether a practice is good for worker safety and health, and then add that to the benchmarks for green and sustainable practices.

Safety training for workers learning home weatherization skills

Weatherizing homes is one popular green activity and it has attracted many new workers from non-construction industries. While fall hazards from working on ladders and roofs are well-known to experienced construction workers, they may be unfamiliar to workers new to the industry. When these workers receive training on how to weatherize homes it is also a great opportunity to teach them the safety and health skills they will need for their new careers.

Great strides can be made in occupational safety and health, energy conservation and environmental sustainability if all three fields work together, share information and work toward similar goals. December’s Making Green Jobs Safe Workshop started the conversation about how to integrate these fields. NIOSH welcomes your thoughts about the considerations presented here to continue the conversation. The ideas you share in response to this blog will be combined with what was discussed at the Workshop to help NIOSH refine these considerations and guide future efforts.

Matt Gillen is Deputy Director of the NIOSH Office of Construction

Pietra Check is a Health Communication Specialist in the NIOSH Office of Health Communication.

Dr. Christine Branche is the Principal Associate Director and Acting Director of the NIOSH Office of Construction Safety and Health.

Posted on by Matt Gillen, MS, CIH, Pietra Check, MPH and Christine Branche, PhD

64 comments on “Going Green: Safe and Healthy Jobs 2”

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 ».

    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.

    As more construction materials are made from reclycled products, there needs to be quality control over these materials so construction workers are not exposed to dangerous chemicals. For example, lead has been found in new steel, presumably made from recycled metal. I believe the USEPA must set limits on concentrations of toxic materials in contruction materials and determine how batches will be tested.

    HS3 initiative in the Fox Valley has innnovative companies sharing best practices on integrating health, safety, sustainability and stewardship.

    An important tool to accomplish #2 (“Evaluate all green jobs, practices, processes, and products for hazards to worker safety and health”) is to conduct a risk assessment. Just like any new task, safety and health risks must be determined. Sometimes the best way to accomplish this is with a documented risk assessment following published industry standards.

    Many green jobs have similar hazards as existing jobs, and these hazards can be controlled in the same manner once they are identified.

    Your comments about the need to employ risk assessment methods to evaluate all green jobs, practices, processes, and products for hazards to worker safety and health was discussed during the Making Green Jobs Safe Workshop. The “Manufacturing / Emerging Technology” break-out discussion group identified the need to include a formalized risk-assessment and management-of-change process into an integrated EHS management system as a compelling follow-up activity. Thank you for your comment.

    Donna Heidel is the Prevention through Design Coordinator at NIOSH.

    How can safety, health and environmental professionals assist the mass of workers who currently do not have, and will not have time for traditional training in handling risks? Where can we best volunteer our time to assure the working population comes on line safely and goes home whole?

    Getting the right training delivered to the right audiences is a major issue that cuts across many different aspects of safety and health. You raise the issue of the lack of time for training. This is one of our first battles—changing the way people think about safety and health training so that everyone makes time to protect their workers and themselves. That said, NIOSH and others in the safety and health community have explored “non traditional” training methods such as using video games in mine safety and health training, online tools, and video. In terms of volunteering, perhaps we should let the environmental saying “Think Globally – Act Locally” guide us here. We can all get involved in our local organizations—whether they be local unions, local trade association groups, or local professional safety and health groups—to identify such opportunities.

    NIOSH is to be congratulated for taking this lead. The ASTM E-50 committee, of which I am a member, is developing a guidance document for “green remediation.” The committee was quite interested in the research of Sathy Rajendran, John Gambatese and Michael Behm (J. Construction Eng. and Mgmt., Oct. 2009) that found LEED-defined green construction projects had higher median OSHA recordable incident rates than comparable nongreen projects, although the statistical significance wasn’t conclusive. If these projects were truly sustainable, the recordable rates for LEED projects should be significantly lower. Sathy Rajendran’s evaluation criteria for safety and health on green construction projects make sense and our community should make a concerted effort to get the U.S. Green Building Council to adopt something similar for LEED.

    Excellent workshop. Let’s hope the initiative will not die down like many other initiatives.

    It might be a good idea to develop a course that could be used to promote PtD and green initiatives to engineering and business programs. A team for our university developed an alternative fuel from scrap tires. However, they did not have a safety program and no IH risk assessment. I hope we can integrate PtD, ANSI Z10, OSHAS 18000, ISO 14001, LEED.

    Let’s hope we can develop such integrated programs.

    NIOSH has recognized the need to include Prevention through Design (PtD) concepts in engineering and business school curricula. A group of educators is partnering with NIOSH to determine how to develop and share PtD-related course material. In addition, NIOSH is working with a textbook publisher to demonstrate how PtD principles can be diffused to engineering school curricula by incorporating the concepts into engineering textbooks that focus on design. For more information, please visit the PtD Program Portfolio website.

    IBEW Local #99, the Rhode Island Lung Association, and RIOSH are collaborating on an air quality protocol in Rhode Island that fits into your Idea #3.

    It asks the question, “How can the air being breathed in the community surrounding a building that is going up be non-toxic if the air within that job-site is contaminated?”

    Of course, the answer is, “It cannot.”

    Our initiative, “GREEN DURING CONSTRUCTION”, mandates in the bid specs that all contractors adhere to environmental standards protecting both their constructiion workers – and the surrounding community.

    “GDC” aims to reduce toxic exposure on a site by: (1) The implementation of dust controls, especially sillica control measures during construction; (2) The utilization of equipment, both stationary and mobile, that reduces exhaust products via engine modifications, alternative fuels, and electric or hybrid systems; and (3) The prohibition of idling motors on gasoline and diesel vehicles.

    This policy statement could be included in Section 1 of Practice Activities in the Construction/Infrastructure/Repurposing section of your “Compelling Activities”…along with threats of stiff fines or debarrment for non-adherence.

    Thanks for sharing details about your local “GREEN DURING CONSTRUCTION” initiative to incorporate safety and health into green construction specifications. Using dust controls and cleaner vehicles to reduce exposures at the source is an effective strategy for protecting both workers and the community.

    “Integrating safety and health into green elements of contractor specifications” was one of the top recommendations identified by the Construction Breakout group at the recent “Making Green Jobs Safe” workshop. It was also identified as one of the top ten compelling activities by the larger group of workshop participants. Thank you for your comment – we will contact you directly to learn more about your GDC initiative.

    Are there really any “green jobs,” anyway? Time seems to say it’s up for debate… [http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1809506,00.html]

    Great to see NIOSH taking a lead on this issue – and this initiative has been noted outside the USA.

    If your readers are interested in news updates on the topic, then they may also be interested in our Hazards (a not for profit publication) green jobs, safe jobs webpage [www.hazards.org/greenjobs] and accompanying blog [www.hazards.org/greenjobs/blog].

    One of the main things that never seems to be discussed is the cost associated with going green. I know many people feel that whatever cost there would be are more than outweighed by the value. But it is still a valid question that should be addressed.

    There is no doubt that some green initiatives have a cost, especially upfront. However, in some cases the upfront costs are offset by later savings over time. For example, the “return on investment” (ROI) for some energy-related green investments can be readily calculated based on the projected reduction in energy bills. It can be more challenging to calculate costs and returns on other types of green investments. However, green approaches are helping us to take this longer “life cycle” perspective towards occupational and environmental issues.

    NIOSH is interested in working with partners to better understand costs and benefits associated with safety and health and to develop more “business case” studies and tools. As you point out, costs are a valid question, and one that occupational safety and health professionals need to understand better in the years ahead.

    Thanks for sharing details about your local “GREEN DURING CONSTRUCTION” initiative to incorporate safety and health into green construction specifications. Using dust controls and cleaner vehicles to reduce exposures at the source is an effective strategy for protecting both workers and the community.I found to be greatly interesting. I will be coming back to for more information.

    What about IT jobs? Can they be considered “green” or not? Electromagnetic pollution is becoming an important subject nowadays, and it has an effect on both the worker safety and the environment. Just have a look how two journalists cooked an agg with mobile phones. So, it seems that electromagnetic pollution should be given as much importance as other sources of pollution and factors affecting the work safety.

    While the egg/cell phone story is a confirmed hoax, NIOSH does conduct research on Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF). NIOSH research on protecting workers from proven and possible EMF health risks focuses on:

    ◦Radio frequencies—including broadcast antennas, induction heaters, and cell telephones
    ◦Extremely low frequencies—including AC electricity and video display terminals (VDTs)
    ◦Static Magnetic Fields—including DC electricity
    More information can be found on the NIOSH EMF topic page.

    There are many great points for safety and regulation in the eco-friendly products division or the process used to obtain these materials. There are many way companies could make an impact not affecting workers health. Many of these will we in solar power systems and basic water systems such as tankless water heaters used in these facility and all factories, warehouse facilities or distribution facilities.

    not easy to make “green” its big hard work to do it, for industry and society must support one another. This will not be achieved if one aspect is ignored.

    Hello, I am trying to have a hand in a great project of photovoltaic solar cells to be used on the buildings where I work but of course the main proplem is how to confense the manager about initial cost. Is there an organization that can help in this financially or even by an idea?

    N.B. we consume nearly 1500 million Kw annualy.

    The EPA has a new renewable energy costs database. The database is a compilation of existing cost data for wind, solar photovoltaic (solar PV), solar thermal (CSP), and geothermal energy technologies, including historical costs and projected costs for each.

    I’m all for this new initiative. As someone with relatives working in the mining industry, I’m all for health, safety and overall environmental sustainability. You guys should get active on social networking websites and get the word out! I’m sure a tweet about this page would help get Twitter followers for this cause by the truckload.

    Thank you for your interest. Feel free to tweet about this blog—and follow us on Twitter while you’re there. NIOSH has tried to get involved on a few social networking sites. Currently we have profiles on Facebook and MySpace, and we have photos on Flickr and a channel on YouTube.

    Living in Maui we are all about green jobs. Fossil fuels produce 80% of our power and you nearly get sick when you get your power bill. Green jobs in Maui would mean a whole new source of job growth for our island that was previously mainly construction and consistently tourism. Lets go green and create some green jobs.

    Over the weekend I took a train to New York City (Penn Station) and took a taxi to watch a show. I was impressed with the number of “Green” vehicles now being used as taxi cabs. In 2009 New York City had approximately 13,000 yellow cabs and about 40,000 other vehicles (limousines). I am not sure if the city is helping the cab companies convert or it’s simply a matter of economics but I applaud the effort. We rode in a “green vehicle” to the Beacon Theater and to be honest there was plenty of room.

    The ride was the same NYC go-stop-go. Do the math, 13,000 vehicles @ (38 mpg-green – 15 mpg -ungreen) saves about 8.5 million gallons of gas per year (assuming each vehicle travels 15,000 miles per year–conservative).

    I would love to see the city get to 80% or more green taxis and set the example. It was different to see a Toyota Prius as a Yellow Cab.

    I Like Your blog about Going Green: Safe and Healthy Jobs.really great post.i am very happy to read of your blog.its brilliant.

    Thanks.

    Following on from the above comment about the use of green cars, it’s Interesting to see the numbers for the Toyota Prius. From the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality Green Vehicle Guide, the numbers for a current 2012 model are as follows. Air Pollution Score 10 = Best, Greenhouse Gas Score 10 = Best and Fuel Economy (mpg) 51 / 48.
    I was quite surprised just how much these green cars have come along in such a relatively short space of time. The trend would seem to be good for both the environment and your pocket.
    Malcolm

    The National Council for Workforce Education and AED published a report in 2007, Going Green: Going Green: The Vital Role of Community Colleges in Building a Sustainable Future and a Green Workforce that examines how workforce education and community colleges contribute to the overall efforts in the move toward renewable and clean energy. The report gives examples of initiatives currently in effect nationally as well as offering information as to how to implement programs.
    Green jobs may help to reduce health job risks.

    Thank you for your comment. Community colleges can play an important role in training both new and existing workers about green and sustainable practices.

    In my opinion we should turn all work in “green jobs” in order to safeguard the environment for our children, the consumer but also the worker. Green jobs must be everywhere!

    Excellent information about green jobs, working in the plumbing industry I see masses of waste ranging from heat loss to water heater leaking. @Brian makes a good comment about ‘green jobs’ and I hope one day my industry will be seen as truly green. Solar water heaters are making a slight impact but with more teach and research this could be a really innovative and growing industry.

    Not sure if folks are aware, but ASTM is launching a standards project addressing “green” and construction.

    As more construction materials are made from reclycled products, there needs to be quality control over these materials so construction workers are not exposed to dangerous chemicals

    What about IT jobs? Can they be considered “green” or not? Electromagnetic pollution is becoming an important subject nowadays, and it has an effect on both the worker safety and the environment.

    Hello there!

    I’ve been following the Generation Awake initiative (www.generationawake.eu/en/) for a while and I dare say they are doing pretty good. If I’m not mistaken, it’s a government initiative, too. I keep telling myself things will get greener and better for us and the environment. One step at a time.

    Cheers!
    ———

    I agree with Juan above. All kinds of recycled materials are being used and the long term effects have really not been tested adequately especially in the insulation business that we are in.

    This is a great idea. I hope this initiative will not die down like many other initiatives. Long may it prosper!

    As the green industry starts to grow larger and produce more jobs, establishing an optimally sustainable system could be challenging. Green energy is turning into a booming industry, but you’d hate to see companies cut corners just to capitalize on the trend and leave health and safety behind like the fossil fuel industry.

    It’s really great to hear that green and sustainable jobs are safe and healthy for workers. As a leading waste removal company in London, this is good news for all the [name removed] staff.

    The National Council for Workforce Education and AED published a report in 2007, Going Green: Going Green: The Vital Role of Community Colleges in Building a Sustainable Future and a Green Workforce that examines how workforce education and community colleges contribute to the overall efforts in the move toward renewable and clean energy.

    PV techniques such as power storage space. This content details the technological plus cost-effective reason for the power storage space.

    Excellent workshop. I’m all for this new initiative. As someone with relatives working in the mining industry, I’m all for health, safety and overall environmental sustainability. Excellent information about green jobs.

    Spray foam insulation

    Green+Safe=Green Jobs?

    The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) should start looking in to the real source. For instance how do Taiwanese people work, Indian people – third world countries right? These are only on top of my head. People there work for big corporations, which own large market shares, don’t want to name any of them, because I’ll be pointing fingers only. I really detest environmentalism and posts, which try to describe how much they care about the environment and what not. They don’t care about the environment, not on the abstract they don’t. What they are worried about is their own habitat. They’re worried that at some point in the future they’ll be personally inconvenient. Self-interested bourgeois.

    Cheers, from London

    Like all new industries green jobs will have their health and safety issues. One part of the green jobs sector faces several particularly difficult occupational health and safety challenges and this is the solar panel installation industry.

    This industry faces the hazards caused by using high voltage DC power. DC power is more dangerous than AC power and solar systems can operate at voltages up to 1000 volts;

    Secondly installers face working at heights on roof tops that may not be structurally sound and that do not have engineered harness connection points.

    I don’t really know if anyone in the US is looking at these issues but they are real and very dangerous to workers helath

    Some of the technical installers talk about these issues on [http://www.solarpaneltalk.com]

    Thanks for your comment. Some of the issues you raise with respect to solar panels were discussed at the 2009, “Making Green Jobs Safe Workshop” (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ptd/workshop.html). At the workshop, one of the Keynote Speakers, Mr. Michael Wright said, “If you fall 40 feet to your death, it doesn’t matter whether you were installing solar panels on a roof or a smokestack.” Given that the issue of falls for solar installers and maintenance is similar to other construction operations, we have materials available from research NIOSH has conducted on falls in the workplace (including from roofs). Take a look at the following for recommendations on falls prevention http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/falls/; http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/construction/stopfalls.html. In addition to the issue of construction falls, the workshop briefly discussed the electric shock hazards that you point out in your comment. You can review the Solar America Board for Codes and Standards (Solar ABCs), a collaborative effort funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, for more information on solar panel safety, http://www.solarabcs.org/codes-standards/UL/index.html.

    I would agree with one of the older comments. Can we even call some jobs green? The professions itself often doesn’t carry specific eco descriptions. Works like window cleaning might be quite hazardous for the workers themselves as well as environment and even clients. It all depends on what cleaning solutions certain organisation decides to use. Of course, now many start using “green” detergents but there are still way to many that do not care.

    Also, sometimes it doesn’t depend on the cleaners themselves, but on the scale of work. Cleaning windows in some factory might really need much stronger solutions and the simple fact of being close to production (which could be hazard itself) makes the same job neither green, nor safe.

    Truly relevant categorisation will take a lot of resources and time.

    Thank you. Very interesting and useful information. We will talk about it in our newspaper
    French Newspaper about Education and Job careers

    How do you know when your job is green? I never been told my job has any color. Maybe this green jobs stuff is just made up dung.

    Solar Panels for homes will provide a large segment of green jobs for the U.S. economy for the next 20-30 years.

    Going green is the only option to stay alive at this point, so I completely agree with you! Nowadays more and more people start realizing this, and I think this is amazing. In my company we even recycle the debris we remove from people’s gutters. You can make a quite good compost with it. We are a part of this world, and we should stop working against it.
    Jeremy

    Also, sometimes it doesn’t depend on the cleaners themselves, but on the scale of work. Cleaning windows in some factory might really need much stronger solutions and the simple fact of being close to production (which could be hazard itself) makes the same job neither green, nor safe.

    Cleaning companies small or even big companies should use eco-friendly products, avoiding chemicals or other hazardous products that way to protect co-workers health.

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