Rising Temperatures, Rising Injuries: The Impact of Climate Change on Workplace Safety
As the effects of climate change continue to become more evident, it’s essential to acknowledge its impact on our workforce. From emergency responders, health care workers, and farmers to transportation workers, these individuals may be exposed to harsh climate conditions that can aggravate their health and safety issues. The amplified health and safety risks that come with these conditions can be detrimental, especially for workers who lack adequate housing or suffer from social and economic constraints. In the end, climate variations can cause physical harm, emotional stress, and financial burden. As we move forward, we must continue to address the effects of climate change on our workforce to ensure their fair treatment and protection.
Extreme Temperatures and Heat Stress:
One of the most well-known impacts of climate change is the increase in extreme temperatures, which can be deadly, particularly for workers who spend long hours outside. Heat stress is a real danger for outdoor workers, especially in industries like construction or agriculture, where physical labor is required. High temperatures can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. This can be especially dangerous for workers not accustomed to these extreme temperatures or needing access to adequate shade or water. Employers should implement strategies to protect workers from heat stress, such as scheduling outdoor work during cooler times of the day, providing ample shade and water breaks, and training workers to recognize the symptoms of heat stress and seek medical help.
The toll of heat stress on U.S. laborers is alarming. Between 1992 and 2017, more than 70,000 workers suffered from severe heat stress injuries, and 815 of them lost their lives. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that temperatures in outdoor work environments can reach dangerous levels, especially during the summer months. A recent study from the Union of Concerned Scientists projects that if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, the number of unsafe workdays due to heat stress will increase dramatically by 2050. This will significantly impact outdoor workers and could result in a staggering $55.4 billion annual loss in earnings.
Natural disasters can be catastrophic in many ways, and their impacts on people’s lives can be devastating. While we often hear about the destruction of homes, infrastructure, and natural resources, it’s also important to acknowledge the countless workers affected by these events. From farmers and fishermen to construction workers and emergency responders, the list of professions impacted by natural disasters is long and varied. Employers should have emergency preparedness plans in place to protect workers in the event of a natural disaster, such as clear evacuation plans or strategies for supporting remote workers. Workers should also be trained to protect themselves during a disaster, such as by avoiding standing water or moving to higher ground.
Changes in Air Quality:
As temperatures rise, so does the risk of wildfires, meaning that workers are at risk of being exposed to smoke and other pollutants in many areas. This can be especially dangerous for workers with pre-existing respiratory issues, such as asthma. In addition, higher temperatures can exacerbate existing air pollution problems, such as smog or air pollution from industrial sources. Air pollution is associated with various health issues, from heart disease to respiratory problems and allergies. Employers should take steps to protect workers from exposure to pollutants, such as providing N95 masks or other protective equipment, monitoring air quality, and scheduling work during times of day when air quality is best.
The impacts of climate change on workplace safety are real and significant. Workers across many industries face new risks and challenges as temperatures rise and natural disasters become more frequent. Employers and workers must work together to mitigate these risks by implementing strategies to protect against extreme temperatures, natural disasters, and poor air quality. By working together, we can ensure that workers remain safe and healthy, even as the effects of climate change continue to be felt in our workplaces.