Tuesday, 16 August 2011 10:51

Health Impact Assessments: A Design Tool?

Health impact assessments (HIAs) have emerged over the past decade as a powerful tool to provide evidence-based recommendations to decision makers and community planning officials about the likely health co-benefits and co-harms associated with proposed policies and land use development proposals. While they are becoming a more common feature of community planning efforts, they can also bring value to specific building projects.

The benefits of conducting HIAs on specific building projects include:

  • Lengthening the project’s useful life;

  • Protecting the project’s property value by contributing to the long-term resilience of the surrounding community; and,

  • Prioritizing strategies that maximize both short-term efficiencies and long-term environmental, economic, and social value.

HIAs identify the most significant health impacts associated with a policy or project by following a six-step process, outlined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

1.    Screening
2.    Scoping
3.    Assessing risks and benefits
4.    Developing recommendations
5.    Reporting
6.    Evaluating

This process allows the project team to tailor design strategies to address the specific vulnerabilities and health concerns associated with a given population—whether the workers building the project, the building occupants, or the surrounding community.

While a successful HIA should prioritize data sets that are specific to the context of the project or policy under review, several existing green building resources offer a starting point for project teams interested in trying their hand at conducting an HIA:

  • Two literature reviews identify links between the community planning strategies outlined in LEED for Neighborhood Development and benefits to human health.

Understanding the Relationship Between Public Health and the Built Environment (2006)

An Expert Review on the Strength of the Public Health Data in Support of Proposed Community Design Standards in LEED for Neighborhood Development (2008)

  • The RIPPLE database links design, operational, cultural, and technology strategies, as well as industry standards with supporting evidence from the scientific literature and hospital case studies.

For more information on how HIAs can be tailored to specific building projects and how they can inform decisions related to climate change resilience, see Adele Houghton’s presentation at Gulf Coast Green 2011 and the companion article published in the Spring 2011 edition of the Journal of Green Building (Adele Houghton, Health Impact Assessments: A Tool for Designing Climate Change Resilience into Green Building and Planning Projects, Journal of Green Building, 6(2): 66-87).


Copyright: © Biositu, LLC, and Building Public Health, 2011.

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