LEEDing construction safety a Natural Step

After the sixth construction worker in six months died at the $9.2 billion MGM Mirage CityCenter construction site, workers went on strike citing conditions were unsafe and Perini Building Co. was being unresponsive. It lasted only one day, but the largest-ever safety related strike in Las Vegas at the largest-ever private construction project in the United States attracted national attention.

06/01/2008


After the sixth construction worker in six months died at the $9.2 billion MGM Mirage CityCenter construction site, workers went on strike citing conditions were unsafe and Perini Building Co. was being unresponsive. It lasted only one day, but the largest-ever safety related strike in Las Vegas at the largest-ever private construction project in the United States attracted national attention.

I was in Las Vegas at the time, and witnessed a tableau of 20 or so unmoving cranes looming over a complex conglomeration of structural steel and partially clad towers, animated only by an ant-like march of picketers. In a blog I posted that morning at www.csemag.com/blogs.html , I noted that CityCenter has aspirations for LEED NC Silver, and that LEED NC Version 2.2 does not have a prerequisite for safe work sites. The words “safe” and “safety” appear only one time each, and both in reference to lighting design. The draft of LEED 2009 under public review does not enhance LEED’s concern for work-site safety.

There exist measures that LEED easily can adopt, such as OSHA 29 CFR 1926, “Safety and Health Regulations for Construction.” And there is precedence. Sweden’s Natural Step framework for sustainability, which is gaining legs in the United States and has been talked about being adopted by LEED, addresses safety indirectly. The fourth of its four Framework elements states, “In a sustainable society, people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.” Workers being subjected to unsafe or unhealthy conditions on a green-building construction site, being paid unfairly low wages, or being subjected to discriminatory practices, conflicts with this criterion.

LEED can close the health and safety loophole by adopting OSHA 29 CFR 1926 as a prerequisite, with provisions that allow local amendments, and awarding one credit if a project is completed without a serious injury or death. Certifications should be revocable where “accidental” injuries or deaths complicit with negligence or corruption occurred during construction, but were proved to be complicit with negligence after the certification was awarded. While such provisions might not be perfect preventative measures, they provide the U.S. Green Building Council with rear-guard action to protect its name and that of LEED.

Such a provision could have international implications. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, construction workers are reported by Human Rights Watch of New York City as being treated like “indentured servants.” Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz for Dubai “going green” and erecting LEED-certified buildings. How will Dubai’s LEED projects treat construction workers?

With LEED 2009 under development, the USGBC and its members have an opportunity to show they care as much for the people who build buildings as those who own and occupy them.

Send your questions and comments to: Michael.Ivanovich@reedbusiness.com





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