Safety Goes Green: More natural light
Despite improved environmental standards, sometimes green jobs can be deadly. From 2007 to June of 2008, six employees were killed while constructing the massive MGM Mirage CityCentre project in Las Vegas, prompting workers to go on strike and forcing those in charge of the project to up safety standards. Regardless, six of the buildings on the project were given Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certificates, meaning the United States Green Building Council considered them to be green and sustainable structures. This recognition raised a serious issue amongst health and safety officials. No project that claimed six lives should still be considered environmental and sustainable.
Construction site accidents and environmental sustainability are usually not connected. Both operate in their own spheres, though there has been a movement recently to create a better connection between the two areas. As the green movement has turned into a worldwide industry over the past decade, certain aspects have actually made work on buildings more dangerous. For example, there has been a substitution of solvent-based paints to water-based paints that have biocides intended to harm living organisms, forcing workers to use protective equipment when painting. Many new materials used on green construction sites may have other harmful effects people just don’t know about yet because not enough studies have been done on the health hazards they may create.
As the boom in the green jobs industry continues, how will worker safety be affected and what changes are being made? In 2010, Sustainable Development Technology Canada, a green jobs nonprofit funded by the government, reported it had invested $560 million in more than 200 green projects, including energy exploration, power generation, forestry and waste management. Most of these projects strive for the aforementioned LEED gold certificate from the Canadian Green Building Council. But at what cost to the people who work on the projects?
While there still may be a number of problems with green buildings in regards to worker safety, changes are being made to work environments as a whole. The progressive thinking is you can’t have a healthy planet if people are getting sick from the toxic chemicals used to make the planet green. This logic also applies to general worker safety. One focus has been the rooftops of green buildings which reflect light so they don’t have to use as much energy regulating the temperature inside. Workers on those rooftops, however, need to wear special sunglasses to protect their eyes, as the glare can hurt them over a long period of time. The installation of windows for more natural light is another hazard for workers. While this creates a more enjoyable building and pleasant workplace for people in offices, building a window hikes the potential for falls during construction and facility maintenance. One solution to this has been the planned installation of ballasts within buildings instead of windows in certain areas, so there is less of a chance of workers endangering themselves during construction.
While going green and sustainability are still issues of paramount importance in every industry for the future of our planet, worker safety should be considered part of the subject as well. That way, green jobs can be safe jobs for both the planet and those who work on them.