The implementation and maintenance of green construction projects — such as with wind turbines and energy efficient upgrades to boilers and HVAC systems — may help to mitigate climate change but also, because of the dangers inherent to high-hazard construction work, a significant threat in terms of risk to workers.
Last year, the U.S.-based Center for Construction Research and Training released a study that examined the safety hazards associated with such “green” projects, looking for opportunities to elevate worker health and safety. Among such workers were wind turbine service technicians, boiler technicians, HVAC operations and maintenance technicians, electricians, welders, refrigeration engineers, to name just a few.
Regarding wind power in particular, study author Helen Chen writes about fall and electrical hazards: “Windmills can be several hundred feet tall and can therefore pose a serious fall hazard for construction workers as well as maintenance workers,” she says. “Installing wind turbines could potentially expose workers to electrical current, though maintenance workers and technicians face the greatest risk of electrocution. … In Oregon, a wind technician was killed when the energy isolation device on a wind turbine was not properly restored to the operational position after maintenance. When the service brake was released, a blade struck the tower, which collapsed and killed the worker.
“Although this incident involved maintenance and not construction workers, it underlines the importance of proper procedures for controlling potentially hazardous energy.”
Indeed, while many of the hazards described in the study adhere to the traditional categories of hazards — falls, electrical hazards, ergonomic hazards, etc. — the report highlights how this new growth may increase the risk of existing hazards.
The Green & Healthy Jobs report provides a few recommendations:
• Incorporate worker health into the green jobs debate: By building public awareness, when people think of green jobs, they are not just thinking of environmental issues but are asking what makes those jobs safe.
• Promote prevention through design: There are numerous examples of design elements that eliminate or greatly reduce the risk of construction hazards, such as placing light fixtures in areas that are more accessible for maintenance workers.
• Incorporate worker health into green building certification programs: WIth the LEED program, for example, an additional credit could be offered for adding an occupational safety and health professional to the project team. Chen says that at one company, it is required that the contractor, engineer, architect, safety professional, and plant operations and maintenance representative meet during the design phase.
• Promote safety training: “We need to act quickly to train workers in emerging green jobs,” Chen says. “Any training course that teaches green jobs skills should also teach workers how to execute those skills safely.”