Green Jobs and Sustainable Safety Culture

The expansion of green jobs has promoted inspiration and hope for positive impacts on the economy and the environment. Green jobs are traditionally defined as jobs supporting environmental sustainability. Globally, countries have set "green" objective goals to reduce carbon footprint, expanding the green economy and job growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) defines green jobs as "either:

  • Jobs in businesses that produce goods or provide services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.

  • Jobs in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources."

These jobs include renewable energy, energy-efficiency products and services, pollution and greenhouse gas reduction, recycling, natural resource conservation, and environmental compliance. A perception disconnect has arisen about the safety of green jobs. These jobs are not necessarily safer just because they are green. Some green jobs are associated with brand new technology, introducing new hazards and control strategies, while others may be an evolution of existing jobs, like construction. Often, the potential increased hazards due to new or different conditions and materials that have not yet been fully assessed. This leads to a lack of identified control measures to incorporate into existing safety programs and training. Our challenge is to address safety on the front end of these projects, not lag behind.

Simply put, we need a sustainable culture change in our approach to green job safety. Worker safety should receive as much consideration as environmental impacts. These interests do not compete; both are important. In order to promote culture change, leadership engagement should drive and support continuous safety context awareness and impact. We all need to be on the same page. Green jobs should be safe jobs. Companies making facilities, equipment, and materials acquisition decisions should be able to review the full range of corporate social responsibility impacts, including safety, not just environmental. Job safety hazard analysis, a traditional safety skill, should be a standard process for new jobs or variations. Don Ellenberger, Director of Hazardous Waste Training at The Center for Construction Research and Training, has said, "It is essential that conserving our human resources receive the same consideration as conserving our natural resources."

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