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close this bookBuilding Materials and Health (UNCHS/HABITAT; 1997; 74 pages)
View the documentABBREVIATIONS
View the documentFOREWORD
View the documentINTRODUCTION
Open this folder and view contentsI. HEALTH HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH BUILDING MATERIALS
View the documentII. CONTROLLING HEALTH HAZARDS: PROBLEMS AND ISSUES
close this folderIII. A STRATEGY FOR THE CONTROL OF HEALTH HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH BUILDING MATERIALS
View the documentA. Principles
View the documentB. The role of the building industry
View the documentC. The role of research and professional organizations
View the documentD. The role of national governments
View the documentE. International action
View the documentANNEX
View the documentREFERENCES
 

D. The role of national governments

National and local governments have a crucial role to play in the control of hazards associated with building materials by providing, economic incentives and taking regulatory and non-regulatory actions appropriate to specific country contexts. Economic incentives should be directed to popularize the alternatives available for the substitution of materials harmful to health and the possibility of introducing product charges should be considered to discourage the use of harmful materials. Local governments should ensure that building regulations are made more restrictive to the use of harmful materials in buildings. Non-regulatory actions may include government sponsorship of research, the promotion of standards and specifications and the organization of demonstrations projects. Specific actions by governments are presented below.

Regulatory and Legislative Framework

In spite of the growing awareness over the last 20 years of the potential hazards associated with building materials, legal prohibition of materials known to be potentially hazardous has been slow to follow. As earlier on indicated, where such regulations are enacted, the administrative costs and bureaucracy involved in implementing them are very considerable, and are likely to act as a severe disincentive to their use.

In Europe, the Construction Products Directive has been adopted, with the intention of introducing uniform standards of health and safety across the growing European Union. To be placed on the market, all construction products will have to conform to, or enable the resulting construction works to conform to, certain essential requirements, including a requirement for hygiene, health and the protection of the environment. Compliance will enable the product to be labelled with a characteristic European Community (EC) mark. European standards are currently being developed for the individual materials and product which will incorporate the specified essential requirements. One of these requirements is that “the construction works must provide healthy indoor air for occupants and building users”, which specify the various sources of pollutants which need to be taken account of. Under the Directive, the burden of proof will shift to the manufacturer to demonstrate the fitness of the product for its intended use: the definition of fitness has been expanded to include issues of health, safety, and the environment (80).

The approach will gradually replace the essentially voluntary systems of standards currently used in individual countries. The new standards will clearly be of global significance.

Areas of legislation which need to be considered by governments include:

 

• control of hazardous materials: laying a duty on employers to protect all whom they employ from avoidable exposure; identifying safe occupational limits of exposure; requiring training of all employees involved;

• requiring all manufacturers, importers and traders of building products to ensure that these are labelled, that any hazardous substances they contain are identified; and that safe working practices are explained;

• shift the burden of proof to the manufacturer to demonstrate the fitness of the product for its intended use;

• banning of exceptionally hazardous materials and conforming to international protocols in this respect;

• legislation to lay an obligation on designers to pass on to building owners full documentation of the materials used in construction and any associated hazards; and

• detailed requirements for providing for the minimization of hazards to building occupants through adequate ventilation standards, design for control of pest infestation, design for minimization of emissions of volatile organic chemicals etc.

Economic incentives

Economic incentives can play a crucial role in changing the production and consumption patterns in relation to harmful building materials. Such incentives can include: product charges to discourage the production and use of materials and products which are hazardous to human health, and financial incentives to promote the recycling and reuse of wastes.

Non-regulatory measures

In addition to the indicated regulatory measures, governments can promote the control of health hazards through the following non-regulatory measures:

 

• Research and information: As funding bodies for research, governments have a responsibility to promote and ensure that adequate funds are made available for the development of safe building materials and production processes;

• Stimulating voluntary action: The success of the control strategy requires it to be people-centred. People must be stimulated to bear responsibility in shaping the environment and bring about conditions that make it possible, and easier, to live a healthy life. Consequently governments must promote community participation on health development generally and in relation to the control of the harmful effects of building materials and the built-environment in particular. NGOs should be encouraged to play the role of health advocacy;

• Education and training: Stimulating voluntary action and proactive action of key stake-holders requires a well informed public. Therefore the public awareness should be created on how specific building materials and their built-environment can affect their health. In this context, it is important to educate children and young people. As funding and controlling bodies for education, governments have a responsibility to ensure that the curricula of schools and professional educational institutions include appropriate levels of information on environmental aspects of health;

• Standards and specifications: Governments should fund and promote the formulation of appropriate standards and specifications to complement the regulatory and control measures;

• Demonstration projects: Demonstration projects can have a significant influence on peoples’ understanding of safe building materials and the required health adequacy of their built-environment. Government sponsored projects, amongst others, should be used to provide such an influence;

• Intersectoral collaboration: The importance of intersectoral collaboration requires emphasis. Governments must initiate coordinating mechanisms at all levels to sustain and strengthen intersectoral collaboration. Such collaboration must ensure that public attention is mobilized, political commitment is obtained, and adequate resources are allocated in addressing the environmental and health concerns of the population. The fragmentation of the professions in the construction can be overcome through the establishment of multidisciplinary co-ordination bodies.

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