Is LEED Hazardous to Construction Workers?!

One of my coworkers (thanks DuWayne!) sent me a link yesterday to an article that was originally published in Engineering News Record (ENR) Mountain States (here) and then republished on Architectural Record’s website (here).  The title of the article, “New Research Reveals the Safety Hazards of Green Building.” is certainly intriguing and immediately had me pondering how green building could be hazardous, or, at least, more hazardous than “conventional” building. I was struggling to come up with ideas, so I figured I should just go ahead and read the article and hope for enlightenment.

The article covers a study entitled “Identification of Safety Risks for High-Performance Sustainable Construction Projects” that was conducted by assistant professor Matthew Hallowell at the University of Colorado Boulder that was undertaken to look at another study that “found evidence of” a 50% increase in injuries on LEED projects vs. non-LEED projects.  Hallowell’s study attempted to collect empirical, rather than anecdotal, data to describe this apparent increase in injuries by conducting site visits, analyzing project documents and reviewing injury reports. The article indicates that the study identified “14 LEED credentials that may create heightened risks to construction workers.” I can only assume that it means “credits” not “credentials”. The article contains a handy sidebar that identifies each of the 14 credits and then explains why the study feels they increase “risk”. I’ve directly quoted a few of my favorites here:

Enhanced Commissioning

Identified Risk: The presence of commissioners distracts workers, increasing risk of falls and injuries.

Suggested Mitigation: Commissioning agents could receive a site-specific orientation and be provided with personal protective equipment. Agents could be required to pass an OSHA safety course.

Construction Waste Management

Identified Risk: “Dumpster diving” to retrieve mistakenly trashed recyclable materials increases risk of sprains and cuts.

Suggested Mitigation: Suggested solutions include utilizing a third-party, local waste management company to sort the recyclable material offsite, using multiple, smaller waste receptacles around the construction site, or creating an industry-wide, color-coded labeling system to differentiate recycling from trash.

Controllability of Systems – Lighting

Identified Risk: Complex wiring associated with occupancy sensors and timing controls increase risk of electrical shock to workers. Additional time spent wiring these systems at heights increases the risk of falls.

Suggested Mitigation: Some elements of the systems could potentially be prefabricated, decreasing time spent working with the wires onsite. Designers might locate sensors at reachable heights rather than on ceilings to eliminate time spent of ladders.

Daylight and Views: Daylight 75% of Spaces

Identified Risk:  Large skylights, windows or atriums increase time spent working near large, exposed openings at great heights.

Suggested Mitigation: Designers could create a courtyard to meet the requirements or minimize the depth of the building as an alternative to atriums and skylights. If these elements are included, additional precautions could be taken, such as blocking off areas below overhead work, using equipment such as man lifts and scissor lifts when possible and using tie-offs and barriers near exposed openings.


Are you laughing? I was laughing. I don’t want to be mean, and I understand (and agree with) the article’s point that “sustainable” buildings should also be safe for the workers who build them, but these seem a little bizarre to me. Most of the “increased risk” identified has to do with working overhead or on roofs and handling materials that can cause cuts or scrapes. Should we just not put roofs on buildings to make them safer to construct too? DuWayne, my co-worker, summed it up so perfectly that I just had to quote him. “So, because they didn’t throw it in the correct dumpster the first time (which probably had a big sign on it that said CARDBOARD), that makes LEED more dangerous? Give me a break.  Everything mentioned is preventable under existing safety regulations.” He continues, “Pray you make it home to your families, the tyrant A/E’s need more daylighting!”

Maybe I’m just in a snarky mood today. What do you think? Have you seen anything that makes you think that LEED projects really are “riskier” to construct?


3 thoughts on “Is LEED Hazardous to Construction Workers?!

  1. Now granted I work on mostly DOD projects, and the safety regulations there are insanely strict. (ie. Contractor’s safety record must be spotless to even get considered.) But I have never seen anything that leads me to believe that LEED projects are any more dangerous than any non-LEED project.


  2. Nah, I don’t think you’re being (too) snarky. Like Angela and DuWayne say, this is all pretty ordinary stuff in the construction biz. If you’re getting zapped while installing an occupancy sensor, you should learn about locking out breakers before you get fired for ignoring basic safety measures.

    So, the next question is how reports like this gain ANY credibility. Reminds me of the Republican primaries (snark.)


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