A recent study from the US shows that buildings certified against the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building program by the US Green Building Council have accounted for higher rates of injury than comparative non-LEED buildings.
Six case studies in “Identification of Safety Risks for High-Performance Sustainable Construction Projects” in the Journal of Construction Engineering Management concluded that, compared to traditional projects, workers on LEED projects are:
- Working for longer periods of time at height, with electrical current, near unstable soils and near heavy equipment
- More exposed to new high-risk tasks such as constructing atria, installing green roofs and PV panels
- Less exposed to volatile organic compounds through the use of low-VOC paints and adhesives
While low VOC products are a win, the other issues look like an emerging problem that we need to incorporate into hazards analyses.
Maybe you should use robots instead
Building Enclosure Online is arguing that using robotics in construction is the sustainable choice, pointing out that robotics costs have dropped and robotics lend themselves particularly well to modular construction – the “new black” for the construction industry. A white paper by CAT supports this idea and suggests several options:
- Autonomous heavy equipment that sees the conventional heavy equipment we use today controlled by computers rather than operators, with software that coordinates the machines to work together
- 3D printing that can handle construction-grade materials to produce buildings and their components more efficiently than manual building methods and with less waste
- Drones fora literal “top down” view of the worksite, with applications for site security, supervision, monitoring building progress and estimating and managing inventory
- Demolition robots for demolition work and site cleanup with obvious reductions in risks related to people on site, confined working, difficult-to-reach areas and hazardous materials
- Semi-automated masonry that uses robots driven straight from the CAD file to place mortar and bricks with great precision and reduced physical strain on humans, supported by human operators to supply bricks, finish mortar, perform visual inspections and monitor progress
- Robotics as the answer to lean construction by increasing precision and reducing waste.
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While the robots seem, at first, to be a threat to builders’ livelihoods, the semi-automated masonry shows that robots can be used for the heavy lifting and still rely on the brick layers expertise for the best result.
Perhaps robots answer the safety issues and allow the humans to shine as the experts they need to be.