The need to integrate worker safety in ‘green building’ design

The safety profession needs better integration with the environmental initiatives and requirements imposed on business.  In many industries compliance management across the quality, environment and safety disciplines has existed in an integrated fashion for years but many professionals in each discipline are unreceptive to change, some deny the need for change.

Australia, over the last few years, has seen an increase in attention to the safe design of workplaces and buildings.  This has paralleled the growth in sustainable and energy-efficient building designs.  In many circumstances,t the advocates and practitioners of these skills do not talk to one another.  One local example can be used to illustrate this inter-disciplinary blockage.

A civic centre in Australia was constructed to a high level of energy efficiency. Many new water and energy conservation features were incorporated into the design.  It is a very impressive building but within a few months of the centre opening, employees were reporting injuries.

A lot of the building uses natural timbers, many of which are considerably heavier that other contemporary building materials, such as aluminium.  Employees began to report injuries that resulted for having to handle doors, security screens and other building features.  Many of the sliding doors were over 3 metres high and included thick thermal glass for much of the body of the door.  The use of these elements of sustainable construction had not been considered in the design of the building.  The building was environmentally sustainable but had ignored the needs of the people who were required to work in the facility.  Workers compensation claims created an additional unnecessary cost that could have been allocated against the building design.

This shortsightedness is not unique but illustrates a need, not for further consultation although the more consultation on OHS issues the better, but for an integrated approach to workplace safety.  In this case “workplace safety”, is meant as a safety consideration of all elements of the workplace – noise, design, public traffic, heating, animal access……. the list of options could be endless.

These thoughts were generated by an article in the property section of The Age newspaper on 12 May 2010.  The article discusses an assessment tool developed by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) which can be used to determine “the environmental attributes of new and refurbished buildings”.  There are some design elements that relate to working with  green buildings particularly indoor air quality, lighting and thermal comfort.  How closely these are aligned to the occupational health and safety criteria is unclear.

Occupational use criteria could be increased in the assessment tool and some of these could come from the safe design elements.  There could also be greater consideration of the intended use of the facilities – office or manufacturing?, public access, shift work possibilities, and facilities management and maintenance.  It is accepted that the tool forever remains in development and continuous improvement and it will be interesting to see if the occupational needs of the end users gain more notice.

SafetyAtWorkBlog has put a call into the GBCA for further information on these matters.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories construction, environment, innovation, OHS, research, safety, standards, Uncategorized, workplaceTags , , , ,

4 thoughts on “The need to integrate worker safety in ‘green building’ design”

  1. Hi Kevin, This is a very interesting discussion on an issue we going to confront more and more on certification of green building designs, particularly those which are designed through fire engineering. We recently did a post on \”How does compliance with the BCA meet your S28 OH&S designer duties?\” http:/ in which we looked at the use of the BCA as a \”published technical guideline\” for compliance with the BCA. Most of our Architect clients, and the Engineers they work with, are still at the early stages of getting to grips with their S28 duties (6 years after its introduction). If you add in the implications of \”Green Building Design\” I think most of them are just overwhelmed. I would be interested in your feedback on S28 compliance in the context of Green Building Design.
    David Swinson
    BDC Building Design Compliance Pty Ltd
    1300 791 602

  2. It\’s a pity you missed Tuesday\’s Central Safety Group meeting Kevin. You\’d have been fascinated, as I was, with the 2 speakers from a building design & ergonomic furniture company.

    I didn\’t realise, but in fact measures of worker comfort (I don\’t recall the exact term) are integrated into green building ratings – things like air flow, ability to control heating and lighting locally, etc.

    But more interestingly, the designers are going away from a primary focus on ergonomic design of work stations, because increasingly people don\’t use them – they work from home or choose quiet breakout spaces. The rest of the time, they interact in coffee shops, on stairways, or in informal seating spaces. They have formal meetings in board rooms, & \”one-on-ones\” in closed rooms.

    Sounds wanky but in fact my experience is that is what people do, & the architects & designers are now trying to design workspaces around these ways of working.

    Hopefully in the process they\’ll work out not to build sliding doors out of 500KG of mahogany… 🙂

  3. Not just the unintended consequences of materials in green buildings but further maintenance needs need to be considered from a safety point of view. I\’m sure there are more issues, these few came to mind immediately:

    Outside ledges – lovely perches for pigeons and thereby a source of infection with psittacosis infection by inhaltion of the Chlamydophila psittaci bacteria which can cause severe and chronic repiratory symptoms.

    Window cleaning – how will it be achieved in future? The Scots have a novel design required in all new buildings which pivots at the horizontal centre so that all windows can be cleaned from inside the building, rather than a suspended platform.

    Roof work – incorporating rails and/or attachment points to ensure the safety of mainenance persons who have to access roofs.

    1. I think also many buildings are designed for operation principally in daylight hours. How would a building be designed if only night-shift existed? Heating? Lighting? Security? (Emergency) roof maintenance at night?

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