Occupational Health & Safety

Renewable Energy's Safety Benefits Praised

"A transition to renewable energy generation utilizing sources such as wind and solar could potentially eliminate 1,300 worker deaths over the coming decade,” one of the researchers said.

Expanded use of renewable energies should appreciably improve the health of the 700,000 U.S. workers in the energy sector, researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin contend in a commentary published in the Aug. 19 issue of JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association. Steven Sumner, M.D., who completed the work while a medical student, and Peter Layde, M.D., professor of population health and co-director of the Injury Research Center at the college, examined occupational health risks to workers in renewable energy industries compared to those in fossil fuel industries.

They pointed out the risk of workplace injury and death among energy workers is a hidden cost of energy production, known as an externality of energy; externalities of energy production include problems ranging from damage to the general environment to adverse health effects caused by pollution, injuries, and fatalties. Sumner, now an internal medicine resident at Duke University, and Layde concluded wind and solar energy appear to lessen injury risks because the energy extraction phase is minimized or eliminated in wind or solar energy production. Biomass, comprised of biofuels, organic waste, and wood derived fuels, currently accounts for more than half of U.S. energy renewable consumption and does not appear to offer a significant safety benefit to U.S. workers relative to fossil fuels, they found.

"The energy sector remains one of the most dangerous industries for U.S. workers. A transition to renewable energy generation utilizing sources such as wind and solar could potentially eliminate 1,300 worker deaths over the coming decade," Sumner said.

"Previous research on the health effects of a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy has focused on the environmental benefits of renewable energy on air quality and global warming. The benefits of reduced workplace injury and fatality have not been sufficiently emphasized in the debate to move to renewable energies. This will be an added benefit to U.S. energy workers with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009," said Layde.

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