Opportunities for Integrating Safety and Health into Sustainable Building Projects: Have You Tried the Prevention through Design (PtD) Pilot Credit?

Posted on by Christine Branche, Ph.D., FACE, Heather Langford, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, and Matthew E. Gillen, FAIHA

Ten years ago the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) launched the concept of Prevention through Design (PtD), which champions preventing and controlling occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities by “designing out” or minimizing hazards and risks. Since then, many safety and health professionals have become familiar with the concept and implemented it in their projects, but there still are those who have not yet had a chance to implement PtD principles.

One important opportunity to apply PtD to construction projects is the PtD Pilot Credit available in the US Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED© (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system. LEED is a certification system for green buildings, and environmental rating systems play an important role in helping to promote and implement green and sustainable practices. Buildings qualify for different levels of LEED© certification based on acquiring a sufficient number of “credits” demonstrating that the building is efficient, cost-effective, and better for occupants and the environment.

One way the USGBC tests new and innovative concepts is through the development of “pilot credits,” which can be found in the LEED Pilot Credit Library. Pilot credits include a pathway for the credit to evolve based on feedback from project teams that implement the criteria laid out in the pilot credit. These project teams must not only meet the credit requirements, but must also submit an evaluation of the credit itself—assessing credit requirements, documentation requirements, and difficulty of achievement. USGBC collects and integrates project team feedback to refine pilot credits during testing. Pilot credits that are found to be effective and have high usage rates may be added to the LEED Innovation Catalog, a permanent listing of credits that can be pursued for Innovation in Design points.

The PtD Pilot Credit, which lays out criteria for addressing worker safety issues early on in a building’s lifecycle, is available through the USGBC site and is applicable to multiple rating systems (see LEED v2009 and LEED v4), or through NIOSH’s Construction Resources Directory: Safe, Green, Sustainable Construction.

Brief Description of the PtD Pilot Credit

The aim of the pilot credit is to reduce illnesses and injuries by supporting high-performance, cost-effective employee safety and health outcomes across the building life cycle by designing structures that reduce or eliminate potential safety and health hazards. The credit addresses two building lifecycle phases important for safety and health: (1) Operations and Maintenance (O&M), and (2) Construction. Based on advice from USGBC, the credit is structured to parallel and complement the existing LEED Integrative Process credit.  A discovery step evaluates opportunities before moving forward, followed by an implementation step to provide appropriate solutions. The safety design and safety constructability reviews should take place before completion of the schematic design.

For O&M, the focus is on permanent building features—both conventional and LEED-rated. The pilot credit describes and promotes a cross-disciplinary “safety design review” for discovery and implementation. The credit provides a list of systems to consider, such as roofs and equipment rooms. Examples of safety design review outcomes include decisions to reduce fall hazards by installing a parapet wall or a guard rail on a roof; or by specifying non-fragile glass for skylights.

For construction, the focus is on the construction process—both conventional and LEED-related topics. The pilot credit describes a cross-disciplinary “safety constructability review” for discovery and implementation. The credit provides a list of topics to guide the review, such as building re-use and work at height.  Examples of safety constructability review outcomes could include a decision to use steel columns that arrive on site with pre-drilled holes for insertion of fall protection lines that would facilitate temporary fall protection for construction workers; or a decision to pre-fabricate components at ground-level to minimize falls from working at height.

The PtD credit is the 93rd pilot credit added to the Pilot Credit Library. The PtD Pilot Credit itself provides a simple and useful template for implementing PtD in construction, and so should be very helpful to architects and designers who are just getting started with introducing the concept in their designs.

Available Webinars

There are now two webinars available that describe the pilot credit. The first webinar, posted in July 2015, offers a general description of the pilot credit and why it is important. The second webinar, posted in May 2017, describes the intent and requirements of the LEED PtD Pilot Credit. It explains key concepts and provides step-by-step guidance and strategies for achieving the pilot credit. The additional detail in the second webinar is key in helping architects and designers understand how to accomplish safety and health in designing buildings.

These webinars were designed to fit within the existing USGBC continuing education system so as to promote uptake of the credit by the green design community. NIOSH will host a webinar covering concepts about the PtD Pilot Credit specifically targeted for safety and health professionals in the fall of 2017.

NIOSH and USGBC Partnership

The NIOSH Construction Program worked with USGBC to develop this PtD Pilot Credit[1] to explore the connection between occupational safety and health and sustainable building practices. By addressing worker safety and health throughout the lifecycle of a building, the credit helps broaden the concept of sustainability. The partnership was motivated by stakeholder input during the Second Decade National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), which led to a Construction Sector goal to increase the use of PtD by integrating safety and health into green rating systems.

The PtD Pilot Credit is an opportunity that extends beyond the community of construction safety and health practitioners.  NIOSH and USGBC partnered to develop two webinars  to explain  the PtD concept and how to implement the pilot credit. The webinars communicate directly to architects, designers, and owners and can assist safety and health professionals with communicating  with these key groups.  See “Available Webinars” above.

Participant Reviews, Webinar #1

“Well-presented, convincing case for raising the (design) bar on safety in green buildings.”

“The concept behind this course is so critical I think it should be required information for all architects, engineers, contractors, owners, and everyone working in those types of offices or going to those degree programs at college. This is something we don’t think or talk enough about, and it’s also something that can be easily avoided with some foresight and thought early on.”

“This is a concise presentation which clearly identifies and emphasizes life cycle safety on any job site. While I’ve found most jobs require safety training during construction, I’ve never made the connection to green building design, especially windows and green roofs.”

How Can You Play a Role?

The PtD Pilot Credit represents an important opportunity for the entire safety and health community to gain traction for PtD and for safety and health in green rating systems. Safety and health professionals should consider getting more involved with designing and planning of facilities. Please try the PtD Pilot Credit and help us improve approaches for integrating safety and health into the design of buildings. Working together with architects, engineers, contractors, developers, owners, environmental and energy professionals, and construction and maintenance workers, we can all improve the safety and health performance of our built environment. Tell us about experiences you have had and what you think in the comments section below.


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

Heather Langford began working with NIOSH on the PtD pilot credit and educational components while a director in the LEED department at USGBC.  She brings a background in urban ecology and environmental design to her current work as a LEED consultant.

Matt Gillen is a retired NIOSH employee who has been working with NIOSH and the USGBC on the development of the pilot credit and webinars.



  1. Toole MT, Gambatese JA, Abowitz, DA. Owners’ Role in Facilitating Prevention through Design. Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice. Vol. 143 (1); 2017. http://ascelibrary.org/doi/full/10.1061/%28ASCE%29EI.1943-5541.0000295
  2. Toole MT, Gambatese JA, Abowitz, DA. Owners’ Role in Facilitating Design for Construction Safety. Silver Spring: CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training Report;  2012. http://www.cpwr.com/sites/default/files/publications/Owners_Role_in_Facilitating_DfCS_Report.pdf


[1] The LEED pilot credits are intended to test innovative ideas, providing a learning lab for architects and designers.



Posted on by Christine Branche, Ph.D., FACE, Heather Langford, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, and Matthew E. Gillen, FAIHA

4 comments on “Opportunities for Integrating Safety and Health into Sustainable Building Projects: Have You Tried the Prevention through Design (PtD) Pilot Credit?”

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 AIHA Construction Committee has provided several inputs but in order to strengthen the health aspect it would be important to guide more research on health related matters in construction. One notable example is the AIHA White Paper on VOC’s in New Construction published this summer.

    Thanks for your comment and for pointing out the AIHA White Paper. We agree that additional research is always helpful to better understand health and other impacts. The goal of the LEED PtD Pilot Credit is to get additional traction that will improve current practices that affect construction and maintenance workers. As you know, the workers performing construction and renovation can experience exposures while doing new construction work. The LEED PtD Pilot Credit combines PtD strategies with existing knowledge. The pilot credit, for example, calls for the following health-related recommendations, where applicable, during the construction phase:
    • Assess the utility of low-emitting materials, material ingredient reporting, chemical of concern avoidance and source reduction approaches to further reduce construction worker exposures
    • Assess how the indoor air-quality management plan can be used to further reduce exposures to construction employees
    • Assess how the pollution prevention plan can be used to further reduce exposures to construction employees.
    Thanks for your interest in the pilot credit and construction-related health research.

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Page last reviewed: January 12, 2024
Page last updated: January 12, 2024