***UPDATE 2/16/12: For those of you that are interested in reading the whole study – hint hint, law firms – you can obtain a copy from the ASCE Library by following this link.***
A new study says that some LEED credits might carry an additional risk of worker injury of up to 41%. The study, published by the Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering Department at the University of Colorado Boulder, used empirical data to support their finding that a number of LEED credit carry substantial risks. The results might be a little frightening.
The UCB professor behind the study says that his interest was piqued when he saw statistics that suggest worker injury occurs up to 50% more on LEED projects. Instead of making a case study out of this interesting statistic, the professor elected to craft an empirical examination, using data collected from a wide sample of LEED projects. The study looks at each credit in the LEED system, comparing it to traditional construction. For example – sustainable( living) roofing v. traditional (fabric sealed) roofing.
The findings surprised me:
With the information gathered, Hallowell and his team of researchers were able to identify 14 LEED credentials that may create heightened risks to construction workers. Most notable risks include a perceived 41% higher risk associated with installing sustainable roofing, a perceived 37% increase in risk from installing PV panels for on-site renewable energy, a perceived 36% additional risk of cuts, abrasions and lacerations from construction waste management and perceived 32% heightened risk of falls from installing skylights and atriums to meet the daylight and views credit.
The first thing that I must note is that the methodology behind this study appears to be a strong one. A well-crafted, well-sampled empirical study is about as good as you can get. Apparently, the USGBC agrees. Its spokesman, whose statement is provided in the article, agreed that the findings were troubling and that they were being taken under advisement by the USGBC.
The really great part about this study was that the researchers didn’t just track down a problem – they made suggested solutions. Read through the article for suggestions on how to reduce chemical burns, reduce falls through prefabrication, and increase accountability through monitoring. In short, it’s a commendable list of reasonable recommendations that both owners and builders might want to consider requiring in specifications.
What does this mean for liability and builder risk? Perhaps a lot.
This information is out there now, and that means increased accountability for injury. Contractors should do their very best to consider implementing improvements in their building process. It might also be time to update your safety manual to ensure that your workers know that you intend to enforce these changes. Finally, train your project managers to actually enforce them.
Owners may want to ensure that insurance provides coverage for these increased risks. It’s possible that insurers will look to studies like these to adjust underwriting guidelines, so check with your agent and read your policy. Owners may also want to utilize their contract to ensure that contractors comply with safety guidelines, or risk breach of contract.
Contact your construction attorney if you want more specific guidelines on protecting yourself against these risks.