New Guides Help Bring Health Considerations Into Industrial Projects

Tools can boost community health and businesses’ bottom lines

New Guides Help Bring Health Considerations Into Industrial Projects
Public health

More economic sectors are beginning to understand their effect on public health and make an effort to proactively address it.

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People often associate the word “industrial” with images of smoke-spewing factories that have the potential to harm public health. But industrial projects can also create jobs and revitalize the cities and towns where they are located, which in turn can improve health in those communities. Health impact assessments (HIAs) and related approaches can help industries and local communities work together to expand economic benefits without sacrificing health and well-being.

Habitat Health Impact Consulting—with funding from the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts—created two resources to increase the use of HIAs for industrial projects. The “Resource Kit for HIA Practitioners: HIA for Industrial Projects” is a guide for HIA professionals, and the complementary “Healthy Community Playbook: A Guide to the ‘Why’ and ‘How’ for Industrial Project Operators,” is a resource for industry.

Habitat defines “industry” as companies that operate projects that involve extracting, processing, developing, or converting products for use or consumption, including mining, oil and gas, agriculture, and forestry, as well as manufacturing and processing industries.

‘Resource Kit for HIA Practitioners’

Due to potential environmental and public health risks, there is an opportunity to conduct an HIA of industrial projects through each stage of their development. The complexity of these initiatives, however, can present challenges for even experienced HIA practitioners.

Industrial projects tend to move through distinct multiyear phases—construction, operations, and decommissioning—each associated with different health impacts. During construction, trees and other vegetation may be cleared or existing buildings and structures demolished. Operations can cause air, noise, and light pollution or increased traffic. Decommissioning usually involves a reversal of the facility’s construction, which can also have health effects. 

The “Resource Kit for HIA Practitioners” explains how industrial projects work, so practitioners can ask the right questions, obtain needed information, and conduct HIAs that can improve the benefits of these projects and mitigate potential harms.

Playbook for industry

Businesses often want to help improve the communities where they locate facilities, but they don’t always know how to—especially regarding health considerations. The “Healthy Community Playbook” offers information on how to incorporate health concerns into industrial projects and makes the business case for doing so.

The guide breaks down the factors that contribute to health and explains how a healthy population can add to a robust bottom line. It also offers advice on how to engage a  community and address potential health concerns, citing successful case studies.

Increasing the use of HIAs in different sectors and trying to bring people together around a shared value of good public health is a priority for the Health Impact Project. These materials build on similar guides that the project and its partners have developed for housing, planning, and disaster preparedness professionals. More economic sectors are beginning to understand their effect on public health and make an effort to proactively address it. In time, perhaps “industrial” will come to represent not only economically stronger communities, but healthier ones, too.

Rebecca Morley directs the Health Impact Project

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By incorporating health considerations and community viewpoints into the process of evaluating and implementing projects, policies, and programs, health impact assessments (HIAs) can improve public health and expand the use of evidence in decision-making across public sectors.