Climate Change, Construction Safety and Green Buildings

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Global warming is a major discussed topic in this era. Whenever a heat wave or flood occur in any region, people cannot stop themselves from bringing up the global warming subject because it is an issue that concerns everyone whether we agree on it or not.

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Global warming is defined as a gradual increase of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans’ average temperatures which is resulting in a permanent change of the Earth’s climate. The planet is warming based on data and facts climate scientists are looking into resulting in dangerous rapid changes. (Live Science, 2018)

The Earth’s average temperature has increased around 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit over the last century which may sound minimal but has an enormous impact on environmental changes.

While temperature will continue to rise, the Arctic Ocean is predicted to melt and become ice free during the summer, which will result in a rise in sea water level as well as flooding frequent occurrences. Hurricanes are expected to become stronger along with intense arrivals of heat waves and droughts in some regions. (NASA, 2018)

In the 20th century, studies have shown that the carbon dioxide level in the air has increased enormously at an unprecedented rate due to the industrial revolution. For centuries, atmospheric carbon dioxide level had never exceeded 300 ppm up until recently where the current level is observed to be 400 ppm which raises a red flag. (NASA, 2018)

This climate change not only will affect the nature and the ecosystem but will also endanger our infrastructure. The role of civil engineers is essential in the mitigation and the adaption to these new unpredictable behavioral climate changes.

New degrees and areas of studies have been added to university programs which will help future engineers come up with new solutions for infrastructure investments that maximize their performance. For example, Carnegie Mellon University has a masters concentration on Climate Change Adaptation for Infrastructure? where graduate students focus more on climate change projections for engineering design, human-infrastructure interaction under climate change, risk analysis and so on.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has also realized the severity of the global warming impact and formed the Committee on Adaption to a Changing Climate in 2011. This committee evaluates the technical requirements and challenges that civil engineering has to face for adaption to climate change and focus on research and development related to the effects of these environmental variations on the safety of the public on the infrastructural level. (ASCE, 2011)

Based on Dr. Ayyub, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Maryland, the new design philosophy emerging is the adaptive design, which allows engineers to change or add parts of the infrastructure design without having to redo the entire design when it comes to existing structures. Risk assessment is fundamental for new constructions, but because of climate change, past data is not reliable anymore which is why civil engineers have to base themselves on climate data for the projection and interaction among the different variables. (Dr. Ayyub, 2018)


Global Climate Change: Effects.? NASA, NASA, 16 July 2018,

Global Warming: News, Facts, Causes & Effects.? LiveScience, Purch,

Carnegie Mellon University. Climate Change Adaptation for Infrastructure – Civil and Environmental Engineering – Carnegie Mellon University.? Formative vs Summative Assessment – Eberly Center – Carnegie Mellon University,

Committee on Adaptation to a Changing Climate.? American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE),

Construction Safety

Construction is a very hazardous domain. Building houses, skyscrapers, roads, tunnels, and dams require numerous dangerous activities that workers have to complete. The fatal rate for the construction industry is the highest compared to other industries. Workers face various hazardous tasks every day that can result in injuries and deaths. The most common potential hazards are falls from heights such as roofs, ladders and scaffolding, trench collapses, electric shock, burns from fire, misusage of materials, heavy material handling, and exposure to air contaminants. (OSHA, 2005)

Construction sites are naturally a dangerous workplace but many of the risks taken there are the result of employers and employees’ negligence and recklessness. A lot of accidents can be avoided, and risks can be minimized if companies follow state and federal safety regulations. (Powers and Santola, 2014)

The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was created by the 1970 Congress to provide a safe working environment for employees. By setting standards and assuring education and adequate training to workers, OSHA makes it clear that the right to a safer workplace is one of the basic human rights. Their mission is not finished yet as they are continuously in the quest for new ways to establish more efficient technical rules and standards while emphasizing the importance of the workers’ participation in trainings and their understanding of the dangerous nature of the construction industry.

The American Society of Civil Engineers have a strong opinion regarding the improvement the safety in the field. They believe that this matter requires the attention, cooperation, and commitment from all the parties involved in a construction project. The responsibilities are to be divided between the owners, engineers, contractors and formeworkers.

Owners should assign a specific organization for the overall safety of the project. This organization will have to develop a safety plan and monitor the performance of the crew during construction. Owner should include prior safety performance as a criterion for contractor selection. Design engineers on the other hand should hold paramount the safety and constructability of their design when making construction plans and specifications. Contractors have to control and coordinate and implement a specific safety plan based on the project they’re working on as specified in the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Employees should make sure they follow the guidelines on how to use their equipment safely making sure they are always wearing their helmets, gloves, glasses and so on. (ASCE, 2012)

Educators also have a role when it comes to preaching engineer’s duty in providing a safe and healthy environment to all the people involved in site activities through proper planning and design. Employees in the workplace should be guided and trained on specific hazards they might meet and the way to deal with them safely with the least risk of getting injured.


UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR.? Occupational Safety and Health Administration,

Do Construction Workers Have the Most Dangerous Jobs?? Powers & Santola, LLP, 13 Apr. 2018,

Policy Statement 350 – Construction Site Safety.? American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE),—construction-site-safety/.

Recycled materials

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines recycling as being “”the separation and collection of materials that otherwise would be considered waste, the processing and remanufacturing of these items into new products, and the use of the recycled products to complete the cycle.”” In other words, recycling is a process that turns waste into reusable new products while reducing the amount of wastes dumped in landfills. Doing so reduces energy usage and pollution lowering as a result the gas emissions causing global warming.

Most of the plastic bottles we use end up in landfills. Not only do they take up large spaces, but they also contaminate the water in the waste creating a highly harmful liquid called leachate. Leachate can reach the groundwater, poisoning consequently the ecosystem and harming wildlife. Instead of waiting for those bottles 1000 years to decompose while harming the environment, they can be brought to a plant where they are squeezed and compressed then shredded into small fragments which are washed and melted to be used again. This cycle is applicable for paper, steel cans, aluminum, and glass containers. (TED-Ed, 2015)

In sustainable civil engineering practice, various types of recyclable materials are being used in infrastructures. The usage of those recycled materials is helpful when it comes to high demands of materials with large volumes. Tire shreds, ground tire rubber, fly ash, slag, cement kiln dust, silica fume, and crushed glasses are waste products used as a cheaper alternative to other conventional materials. The increase in amount of industrial waste causing a heavy disposal cost has brought the attention to the application of recycling products in the construction industry.

Laboratory tests have shown that the addition of rubber tire to the soil, concrete, and pavement increases the strength of the mixture. A lot of research is being conducted in the California State University showing the benefits of adding those waste materials to the concrete and soil mix. The research is focusing on evaluating the possibility of using construction waste into civil engineering applications including backfill of retaining wall, sidewalks and walkways pavements, as well as ground improvement to increase the load bearing capacity of weak foundation soils. Several states including California have long-term plans of recycling the non-biodegradable scrap tires in the construction. (Monica, 2011)


Top 10 Most Important Items to Recycle.? Care2 Causes,

What Is Recycling? What Is Recycling? | City of Little Rock,

TEDEducation. What Really Happens to the Plastic You Throw Away – Emma Bryce.? YouTube, YouTube, 21 Apr. 2015,

Monica, et al. Use of Recyclable Materials in Sustainable Civil Engineering Applications.? Advances in Decision Sciences, Hindawi, 26 Feb. 2012,

Green Buildings

The U.S. EPA believes that Green building is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort. Green building is also known as a sustainable or high-performance building. (EPA, 2016)

Kukreja defines the ideal green building to be a project that preserves the natural environment around the project site while still being able to produce a building that is going to serve a purpose. Building green not only has environmental benefits such as reducing wastage of water, improving air and water quality, and conserving natural resources and biodiversity, but has also some economic and social benefits. For example, building green creates market for green products and services, improves quality of life, improves occupant’s health and productivity, and reduces operating costs. By efficiently using water, energy, and other resources, and reducing trash and pollution, the green movement will be helping in preserving the environment. Sustainability is becoming a major concern in the modern projects because green buildings are considered investments that will be able to save money and the earth in the long term. (Kukreja, 2016)

Civil engineers’ role in green building is very important. Although most of the times architects are the ones responsible for proposing the design work related to the aesthetics and functionality of the building and LEED is the organization that gives accreditation to a green building, but a civil engineers’ role remains irreplaceable. The LEED organization only gives accreditation based on materials used in construction, resources used by the building on a regular basis, overall pollution emission, and the amount of reused energy and resources the building uses. As a result, it is the civil engineers’ part to make those preconceived designs happen in reality by analyzing the thermal properties of the appropriate eco-friendly materials and try to match the requirements set by the LEED organization to receive their accreditation. A good engineer keeps himself up to date with the latest construction techniques which can save in first cost and operations and maintenance, making a significant economical and environmentally friendly contribution to the project. Integrating sustainability goals in every step of design is the civil engineers’ responsibilities. From site layout and materials selection to storm water management and erosion control, it is the engineers’ decisions to opt for green building to preserve the environment and reduce long term costs. (Civil + Structural Engineer magazine, 2018)


(n.d.). Retrieved from

Kukreja, R. (2016, December 25). What is a Green Building and Benefits of Green Building? Retrieved from

Civil + Structural Engineer magazine. (2018). Civil engineering design for green building – Civil + Structural Engineer magazine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 16 Sep. 2018].

Wastewater treatment and reuse

Treating the water and reusing it is a very important and delicate process that helps preserve this vital resource. Wastewater treatment plants not only treats water but produces biosolids that are a valuable resource used by farmers as rich soil amendment. Power is also being generated from the biogas used to run turbines. Water is clarified and treated and reused in golf courses and sometimes for drinking purposes.

Wastewater treatment undergoes many processes before it is discharged in the river again. The first stage is called the pretreatment stage where the wastewater goes through settling, filtration and biological activity. The wastewater goes through bar screens across the influent channel that are used as initial filters to remove large objects that could block pipes or damage equipment. The wastewater is then moved to the primary clarifiers where the heavy solids materials of the wastewater can settle to the bottom. Grease and oil that float to the surface of the water are removed afterwards. Then the wastewater flows through the clarifier and is pumped to the secondary treatment. (Davis & Masten, 2013)

A biological treatment called activated sludge mimics the processes used by nature for purifying lakes and streams. The wastewater is mixed with activated sludge in large aeration basins. The aeration method provides the bacteria and other microorganisms with enough oxygen for them to multiply and grow and biologically clean the water from its organic matter. The clarified wastewater moves on to the effluent filtration phase. Part of the activated sludge recycled or is sent back to the aeration basin with the new coming primary sludge. After effluent filtration, the wastewater enters the chlorine contact basins for disinfection. However, chlorine and its byproducts are toxic to aquatic life, sulfur dioxide is added after chlorination to remove the chlorine residuals. After chlorination and dichlorination, the wastewater looks is then discharged to the rivers. (Water Creek Reclamation Facts, n.d.)

Wastewater civil engineers are the chief developers of this innovative and complex infrastructure. They have to go through extensive training to receive the licensing requirements needed to manage this type of facility. Civil engineers’ main responsibilities are to investigate the health and safety violations of a treatment plant. They have to investigate air quality complaints originating within the facility, research to discover the reasons of a plant not meeting the regulatory compliance standards and find the source of water contamination if this occurs. Another role would be designing the water treatment plant and city sewage where the engineers have to create layout for the entire system to transport and treat wastewater in addition to reconstructing old sewage systems. (Norwich University, 2017)


Principles of Environmental Engineering and Science, 3rd edition, Mackenzie Davis & Susan Masten, McGraw-Hill, 2013

Village Creek Water Reclamation Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved from

The Civil Engineer’s Role in the Wastewater Treatment Process. (2017). Retrieved from

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Climate Change, Construction Safety and Green Buildings. (2019, Oct 11). Retrieved from