Are Green Jobs Helping Workers Stay Safe?

Green jobs are not necessarily safer for workers than traditional jobs. However, the current shift toward a greener economy is giving policymakers the opportunity to mold safer work environments for green workers in the future. Many of the hazards that workers endure—falls, burns, cuts—are found in green and non-green jobs alike. Whether these will be eliminated with the changing economy, however, remains to be seen.

What Are Green Jobs?

Broadly speaking, green jobs are jobs designed to improve the environment. As the United States and other nations manage the effects of climate change, there is a growing desire among citizens and politicians to reshape the economy to include a much larger green workforce.

In the next ten years, there is expected to be a growing demand for hazardous material removal workers, wind turbine technicians, solar photovoltaic installers, environmental engineers, and other jobs whose primary function is to improve the earth’s climate.

Green Jobs Are Not Inherently Safer

Many green jobs function similarly to non-green ones, they just use different tools and strive toward different outcomes. For instance, workers who install solar panels on rooftops may experience many of the same hazards as roofers and electricians. A work injury could arise from falling off a building or from getting electrocuted by overhead lines.

In 2013, the Center for Safety and Health Sustainability, a joint effort of safety and health professionals in the US, Canada, and the UK, reviewed Corporate Knights’ Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World. They found:

  • Only 38 companies reported the number of worker fatalities
  • Of that 38, only 28 reported one work-related fatality
  • One company reported 49 deaths

The only way to make green jobs safer is if policymakers and job creators take an active role in protecting workers from potential harm. The massive economic shifts required to create a greener economy will allow influential people to do just that.

Planning For a Safer Future

Rising to the challenges faced by a quickly changing economy, government agencies, activists, and corporations are studying and implementing methods that protect green workers from job hazards.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) leads the nationwide initiative Prevention through Design (PtD), which addresses hazards and minimizes worker injuries through measures ingrained in the design of the work. The PtD advises corporations on tools, personal protective equipment, machinery, and processes; all areas that will need to be improved upon further as the world quickly moves to a greener economy.

The Green New Deal, a green economy agenda promoted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and supported by the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, ensures all jobs created under its fold will be backed by a union, hired locally, and pay prevailing wages. These measures, the agenda’s proponents argue, will help keep workers safe from exploitation.

Though green jobs are not inherently safer than non-green jobs, leaders around the world are taking this opportunity of change to plan for a safer workspace. Only time will tell if their goals will come to fruition.