New research, supported by the Center for Construction Research and Training, found that construction workers on LEED projects suffer more falls than workers on traditional projects, are exposed to high-risk tasks, and incur more lacerations, strains and sprains than workers on traditional construction projects.

The study, “Identification of Safety Risks for High Performance Sustainable Construction Projects,” which appeared in theJournal of Construction Engineering and Management, examined construction projects built to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification. LEED-certified buildings have a 9-percent higher recordable injury rate than non-LEED buildings.

Workers on LEED construction projects are exposed to work at height, with electrical current, near unstable soils and near heavy equipment for a greater period of time than on traditional projects, the study reported. Construction workers also are exposed to new high-risk tasks such as constructing atria, installing vegetated roofs and installing solar panels that are not present on traditional projects.

The most significant impacts are:

  • a 36 percent increase in lacerations, strains and sprains from recycling construction materials;

  • a 24 percent increase in falls to lower level during roof work because of the installation of on-site renewable energy such as solar panels;

  • a 19 percent increase in eye strain when installing reflective roof membranes; and

  • a 14 percent increase in exposure to harmful substances when installing innovative wastewater technologies, such as gray water reuse and on-site wastewater treatment systems.

Designers and contractors identified prefabrication, effective site layout and alternative products as methods to prevent injuries that specifically relate the hazards of each sustainable element. Specifying low-VOC materials reduces health-related risks for construction workers who perform work in enclosed environments.

The study also revealed feasible prevention methods through design techniques, technologies and controls, and management strategies that can be implemented to mitigate these risks. The results of the study were packaged into a first-generation decision support tool that provides designers and construction managers with safety suggestions for their LEED projects.

The study was conducted by lead authorMatthew R. Hallowell, assistant professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, along withKatherine S. Dewlaney,Bernard R. Fortunato IIIandMichael Behm. Clickhereto purchase a copy of the study.

Sources: Center for Construction Research and Training, and the American Society of Civil Engineers.