Despite many construction projects being labelled as “green” projects, the impacts of construction on the environment should always be taken into consideration throughout the entire lifespan of the construction project. During the construction phase of a project, waste management is viewed as the main environmental impact, however there are plenty other environmental concerns during construction that must be considered and addressed. Every stage of any construction project has a measurable impact on the environment: the use of raw materials, transportation of materials from source to the building site, the environmental footprint of the construction site, use of water, as well as waste removal and disposal. Construction activities have drastically changed our landscapes since the Industrial Revolution. Tall buildings tower above our streets, mines drill down deep into the Earth’s crust, valleys are built up to allow for the construction of dams, and slopes are flattened for housing developments. All these activities can potentially result in environmental degradation and pollution. It is crucial that project managers, environmental health and safety officers, and site managers understand how construction projects impact the environment, as well as how these impacts can be mitigated and reduced.
Construction is energetically expensive. Fuel, such as petrol and diesel, as well as electricity, is requires for transportation of materials, machinery, generators as well as maintaining the site camp. It is therefore important to increase the energy efficacy of the project, which can be done by using modern technology and ensuring proper maintenance of machines and equipment on site.
There is a great demand on scientists and architects to meet the rising energy demands with clean energy solutions. According to the United State Green Building Council, the construction industry currently account for 40% of worldwide energy usage, and this is expected to increase in the future. To ensure sustainable development in the future, construction and design should allow for energy efficiency from the earliest stages of the project.
All construction projects generate waste. This can be in the form of builders’ rubble, hazardous waste or general plastic litter and food waste from the workers on site. It is critical that a thorough Waste Management Plan is drafted prior to the commencement of construction, which details the sources of waste, the methods of disposal (preferably at a licenced landfill site), as well as the ability for waste generated to be recycled or reused on site. To avoid continuous trips to a waste disposal facility, many site officers construct a “waste cage” at the site camp, where waste is temporarily stored within an impermeable, weatherproof cage or container until such a time where it can be properly disposed of.
Another type of pollution that results from construction activities is noise pollution. Noise can result from machinery that is not properly silenced, loud music on site, or excavations and drilling operations. If there are sensitive receptors close to the site, construction managers should comply with local working hours so as not to cause undue disturbance.
Sustainable use of Resources
Whether it is the construction of a dam or a high-rise tower, building of structures require a lot of raw and natural materials during construction. This includes wood products, limestone, building sand, clay, metals (such as electrical wiring and structural steel) as well as (often non-potable) water. Some of the materials, such as clay for a dam wall, can be sourced on site, but most often the materials must be sourced from elsewhere and transported to site. The use of natural materials has a large impact on natural ecosystems and diversity, and prior to construction an analysis with regards to material consumption – and how it can be minimized – must be undertaken.
Construction Projects and Water
No construction project can be undertaken without the use of water. It is important that construction water be sourced form a non-potable source, such as a nearby water treatment plant or authorized boreholes, to reduce the environmental impact.
During the construction and operational phases, surface runoff should be considered and factored into the design of the project. This can be done through the drafting and implementation of a Storm Water Management Plan, which addresses how storm water and surface run off will be retained or channelled to minimize the impact on the surrounding environment during heavy rain incidents. Surface runoff has the potential to contain hazardous chemicals when flowing across a construction site, and therefore this water should be prohibited from flowing freely into the surrounding environment.
Water used as painter’s wash water, or water used for cleaning of cement mixers and machinery, should be disposed of correctly as this water is considered hazardous due to the toxins and chemicals contained within it. One option to handle this water is to collect it in an impermeable bunded area, where it is allowed to evaporate, and the debris and sediment collected and disposed of at a licenced waste disposal facility. The water can also be directly captured from the source and treated as hazardous waste and disposed of accordingly.
The Future for Environmentally Conscious Construction
The consideration of environmental impacts and the reduction of environmental effects of construction projects requires collaboration from a vast array of stakeholders. Legislation should ensure that the environment is not unduly harmed during the approval phase of a construction project, and construction firms should take initiative to research the most sustainable construction techniques. Contractors on site must be responsible for drafting management plans for waste and water, as well as ensure their machines are up to date and that sustainably sourced materials are being used on site. New technology, such as the SafetyStratus environmental management software and EHS management program, can also be used to manage and track environmental regulatory compliance, track waste, and analyze environmental, health and safety data.
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