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Researchers: Renewable Energy Jobs Are Safer

The push for renewable energies has one more feather to put in its cap: improved health for its workforce and the potential of evading death, at least while on the job.

As more workers shift from fossil fuel-related jobs to those in renewable energy, their health should improve, according to commentary by Medical College of Wisconsin researchers published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The researchers studied occupational health risks to workers in renewable energy and fossil fuel industries, according to a report by ScienceBlog. They found less risk of injury and death in wind and solar energy than in fossil fuel jobs. Biomass jobs did not have any significant safety benefit compared to fossil fuels.

The study, which was partially supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, notes the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has put more money towards renewable energy. This added investment will shift more workers away from fossil fuels and in turn, improve their overall health, the study says.

So what does this mean for the 700,000 folks working in the energy sector? Well, one of the researchers, Steven Sumner said this in the Scienceblog post:

"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."
Researchers noted the lack of more precise data on renewable energy occupations. Still, they found that while fossil fuels are traditionally cheaper than renewable energy, "hidden costs" including the negative effects on health have not been figured in.

Other tidbits:

  • Mining coal, gas and oil from underground or underwater stores is the second most hazardous job in the U.S. with 27.5 death per 100,000 compared to the average annual fatality rate of 3.4 deaths in all U.S. industries;
  • Highway crashes account for the greatest proportion of death among oil and gas extraction workers;
  • Solar, wind and fossil fuels need to access transmission lines to get their source of power to households and businesses. Those industries share the risk of accident from electrical current traveling through power lines.
Image of Safety First sign from Flickr user Heathervescent, CC 2.0
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