Broadly defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the green industry is “involved in economic activities that help protect or restore the environment or conserve natural resources.”
“We’d like to see a bluish tint added,” says LIUNA General President Terence M. O’Sullivan. That tint would swirl in from protecting the health and safety needs of the blue-collar workers needed to build a green economy. “These jobs also need to be good-paying jobs with family-supporting benefits,” O’Sullivan emphasizes.
“A building, a windmill or a road system has a life cycle, just like a living thing,” says Walter Jones, the Associate Director of the LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division. “The cycle has three phases: construction, use and deconstruction. While its environmental footprint – for instance, its energy savings, water efficiency and emissions control – must be considered in each phase; so too should be the impact of the facility on the people who build it, maintain it and, eventually, remove it.”
Michael Behm, an environmental, safety and health specialist and assistant professor at East Carolina State University who joined Jones for a panel discussion at the Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo in Denver in May, urged adoption of a rating system to evaluate the safety performance of construction projects. “If we do nothing, what we call green construction today will simply be construction 20 years from now,” he admonished.
O’Sullivan has been a leader in Labor’s drive to spur investment in alternative fuels and other new technology. “It makes little sense”, he says, “to aggressively promote the nation’s opportunity to become a global leader in the green economy and make no effort to consider the long-range impacts that our physical projects will have on the people who build and use them. A basic premise of all green economy planning should be the creation of good-paying, healthy and safe jobs.”
Jones points out that the President signed Executive Order 13423 in 2009, requiring federal buildings to meet energy efficiency standards. Yet, no order has been signed to require health and safety planning for the design, construction, use and demolition phases. “Why don’t we have an executive order that says we’re going to have health and safety in every building built by the federal government?” he asks.
The drive to include workplace safety and health concerns in the elaboration of environmentally-sound construction agendas is gaining broad support. The LHSFNA’s call for executive action has struck a chord, and, in June, the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO (BCTD) took up its proposal. Eventually, a formal resolution may be adopted, asking the President to issue the order. Says Jones, “We want federal leadership to ensure that the green economy has no blind spot for the health and safety of the workers who make it possible.”