Green commonly refers to environmental values,” says the LHSFNA’s Associate Director of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Walter Jones, “but it also taps concerns about sustainability and lifecycles. In this respect, it encompasses occupational safety and health issues as well.”

Wind, solar and nuclear power are key arenas of new or expanded green construction in which Laborers will be involved. Residential weatherization is another expanding market. In addition, plenty of traditional production processes are undergoing a green re-evaluation. As the nation turns green to create jobs, save energy and curtail pollution, occupational safety and health is prying its way into the green movement. “Sustainability isn’t just for the planet,” says Jones. “It’s for workers, too.”

Wind Energy Construction Hazards

The ANSI A10 committee is beginning to draft a Wind Energy Standard (A10.21). Among the safety concerns are these:

  • Wind turbines are often erected in remote stretches – far from hospitals, distant from rescue services, often with poor road access and without consistent cellular phone service.
  • Turbines are tall structures with ever-present fall dangers.
  • They are generally erected in windy places where it can become too windy to work safely.
  • In remote areas, the structures, once erected, attract dangerous animals seeking shelter from nature that can impact maintenance and operations.
  • When the equipment is energized, electrical dangers are present.
  • And these are just land-based risks; turbines are also set for construction 25 miles offshore.

Part of the green movement involves a lifecycle look at the way buildings and other facilities – including roads, bridges, mass transit and windmills – are constructed, maintained and, eventually, deconstructed. If all three phases are accounted for in planning, the structure’s entire lifecycle can be more economical, safer, more productive and, even in destruction, less impactful on its surrounding environment. “The point is to leave a smaller footprint on the earth. Having fewer people injured is part of leaving a smaller footprint,” Jones says.

Alongside construction, weatherization is another growing arena of green jobs. The Obama Administration is attempting to weatherize one million homes next year, ten times the number of past administrations, and LIUNA hopes to capture a significant segment of this market.

“In weatherization,” says Jones, “a holistic approach means planning for safety ahead of time.”   The work is generally performed by community-based non-profits, working with small-scale grants. With the new federal program, LIUNA hopes to upgrade such programs, creating union-scale jobs with futures for the local workforce. Part of the upgrade is training, and LIUNA has established a five-week program, led by professional instructors, that includes an OSHA 10-Hour safety-training course. Training will help Laborers and weatherization contractors vigilantly protect against hazards such as lead, asbestos, PCBs, nail guns and falls. Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) – gloves and respirators – may be needed, and fall protection for roof, attic and window work must be employed.

“As the green movement advances through advocacy to the more practical issues of sustainable production, it finds itself engaged with a wider array of players,” says Jones. “Rather than diluting the green message, the inclusion of builders, contractors and Laborers is giving new meaning to green values and, in the process, allowing green values wider impact in society. Safety is one essential aspect.”

[Steve Clark]