by Franz Wagner
November 2, 2009

They say it's always greener on the other side, but Green-built and LEED-certified projects can have you seeing red if owners and contractors do not take precautions to mitigate risk.

While many executives in the construction industry initially perceived green building as a fad just a few short years ago, it is undeniably here for good.

Green building offers project stakeholders the allure of increased profitability, but to achieve optimum return on their investment, building owners and contractors need to mitigate the inherent risks associated with sustainable building. The first step to mitigating your risk is to understand how the risks emanating from Green building differ from those emanating from traditional building.

Risk Management in Site Selection

To obtain maximum Site Sustainability LEED credits, project owners often seek out locations that have been declared brownfield sites (abandoned or underused industrial and commercial facilities available for reuse) and also sites in close proximity to mass transportation, population density and accommodations for electric vehicles and bicyclists.

The development of brownfields may be complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination. The land is often contaminated by low concentrations of hazardous compounds such as lead, PCBs, mercury, hydrocarbons and asbestos. Additionally, such sites often pose unique pollution exposures created by working near subways, railroads and waterways. Because site selection is a key component in LEED certification, owners and developers need to evaluate the numerous insurance products available in the current marketplace to address environmental liabilities arising from these projects constructed on remediated properties. Various forms of coverage can be pursued to insure against existing and unknown pollution conditions as well as pollution conditions arising out of the construction work being performed. Each of these insurance products deserves consideration depending on the specifics of the work and the selected project site.

Loss Control Considerations

The stringent LEED credit system offers designers and contractors the guidance they need to produce a sustainable facility, but with those credits also come safety concerns that must be addressed in order to avoid costly insurance claims. The following outlines three loss control considerations that you should discuss with your insurance broker and safety consultant. By informing them of the green design elements planned for your project, your safety consultant can provide adequate training and equipment, and your broker can enhance your policies with the necessary coverage.

1. Material Reuse
LEED credits are offered for reuse of building materials, which often require some of the materials to be abated of lead paint in the case of reusing steel beams or exposed wooden beams, or stripped of hazardous compounds such as mercury in the case of reused electrical devices. At The Graham Company, our safety consultants advise site managers and contractors on best practices and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and the Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) standards for protecting employees during this phase of construction.

2. Vegetative Roofing
Vegetative roofs are an ideal way to maximize LEED credits for reducing heat island effects, using maximum green space and capturing and reusing rain water. However, vegetative roofs also present a unique condition for worker-fall protection during construction. The lack of exposed concrete and steel on a rooftop creates new challenges in providing construction workers with fall-arrest anchor points, as well as falling-object protection for those below.

3. Indoor Air Quality Control
During the final phases of construction and just prior to occupancy, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association (SMACNA) place minimum expectations for continuous air exchanges. This challenge creates new demands of ventilation during final construction activities, such as painting, drywall and plastering, floor and carpet installation and waterproofing. While such activities may not have posed concern under traditional building conditions, the progressive LEED requirements for ventilation may now present you with a new series of occupational health concerns.

Update Your Insurance Program
Brokers who understand the risks associated with LEED construction are better equipped to structure the insurance coverages for these projects. For example, Builders Risk Policies do not automatically cover some of the unique aspects of a LEED project, such as the loss of earnings from an inability to achieve energy credits or sell off surplus energy due to a loss, or the additional soft costs associated with rebuilding to LEED standards. Keeping your broker informed on the extent of these projects will result in a more comprehensive insurance program to address these LEED-specific exposures.

Franz Wagner, P.E. is the vice president of The Graham Company. He joined The Graham Company in 1994 after having worked for ten years in the engineering/construction industry. Wagner can be reached at 215.701.5278.

Jeff Myung, LEED AP is a safety consultant for The Graham Company. He joined the Graham Company in 2007 and is the Graham Company Safety and Health Consultant for New England. During 2007 and 2008, Myung was part of the Owners' Project Teams for seven buildings on the Harvard University campus, of which two were designed for LEED certification.  Prior to coming to the Graham Company, he had worked with an international engineering and construction consulting firm, and served on its green building committee for the New England region. He can be reached at 617.756.5901

Construction Business Owner, November 2009