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Ensuring Safety and Health at Work in a Changing Climate

  • 14 May 2024
  • 16 min read

Why in News?

Recently, the International Labour Organization has published its report 'Ensuring safety and health at work in a changing climate'.

How Climate Change Impacts the Safety and Health of Workers?

Climate Change and Environment Related Risks Examples of Workers at High Risk Health Impacts Responses and Progress
Excessive Heat Workers in agriculture, environmental goods and services (natural resource management), construction, refuse collection, emergency repair work, transport, tourism and sports. Heat stress, heatstroke, heat exhaustion, rhabdomyolysis, heat syncope, heat cramps, heat rash, cardiovascular disease, acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, physical injury.

General OSH includes maximum temperature limits and guidelines for adaptive measures at the workplace level.

Simple, evidence-based workplace protective measures include acclimatization, self-pacing, hydration, mechanization and clothing.

UV Radiation Outdoor workers, including in construction and agriculture, lifeguards, power utility workers, gardeners, postal workers and dock workers. Sunburn, skin blistering, acute eye damage, weakened immune systems, pterygium, cataracts, skin cancers.

In line with the ILO List of Occupational Diseases, some countries have included diseases caused by solar UV radiation in their national lists.

Simple workplace protective measures include PPE, sunscreen and shaded rest areas.

Extreme Weather Events Medical personnel, firefighters, other emergency workers, construction workers involved in clean-up, agricultural and fishing workers. Respiratory and cardiovascular disease, injuries and premature deaths Some general OSH legislation requires Emergency response plans for crisis situations, which include natural disasters, but these are quite broad and do not address new challenges effectively.
Workplace Air Pollution All workers, with a focus on outdoor workers, transport workers and firefighters. Cancer (lung), respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease.

Measures to reduce air pollution are mostly integrated into overall climate change mitigation or public health policies.

Engineering controls (e.g., adequate ventilation systems) are not usually applicable outdoors, but administrative controls, such as rotating job roles, may be effective.

Vector-Borne Diseases Outdoor workers include farmers, foresters, landscapers, groundskeepers, gardeners, painters, roofers, pavers, construction workers, firefighters, among others. Diseases such as malaria, Lyme disease, dengue, schistosomiasis, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease and African trypanosomiasis, among others.

Where it exists, legislation protecting workers from vector borne diseases is mainly included in legislation covering biological hazards.

Extremely limited research exists regarding protection measures for workers specifically.

Agrochemicals Workers in agriculture, plantations, chemical industries, forestry, pesticide sales, green space and vector control. Poisoning, cancer, neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, reproductive disorders, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), immune suppression. Some countries have recognized pesticide-related health concerns in occupational disease lists. There is limited legislation regarding occupational exposure limits (OELs) and to date there is no harmonized, internationally agreed list of highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs).

Why are Workers at Greater Risk?

  • Between 2011 and 2020, the average temperature of the Earth’s surface was 1.1°C warmer than the average temperature in the late 19th century.
  • Workers, especially those working outdoors, are frequently the first to be exposed to the consequences of climate change, often for longer periods and at greater intensities than the general population.
  • They frequently face conditions that the public can choose to avoid.
    • Women Workers: They may be at increased risk due to their job roles, such as in subsistence agriculture, and during different life stages; pregnancy-related complications include hypertension, miscarriages and stillbirths.
    • Men Workers: They are most likely to carry out heavy manual labor, for example in construction and agriculture, often in hot conditions, and are therefore at high risk of many climate change impacts.
    • Young Workers: They are often exposed to excessive heat in sectors such as agriculture, construction and waste management and tend to be more likely to have a serious accident at work than older adults, as they may lack maturity, skills, training and experience.
    • Older Adult Workers: They are less able to tolerate stress due to slower metabolisms, weaker immune systems and an increased disease burden.
    • Workers with a Disability: They experience disproportionately higher rates of social risk factors, such as poverty and lower educational attainment, that contribute to poorer health outcomes during extreme weather events or climate-related emergencies.
    • Workers with Pre-Existing Health Conditions: Climate change risks may exacerbate pre-existing health conditions, including chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart, kidney and respiratory diseases.
    • Migrant workers: They are frequently employed in high-risk, physically demanding occupations, for example as harvest workers, and may be unable to understand OSH procedures and training materials due to language barriers.
    • Workers in the Informal Economy: Due to financial concerns, informal workers, as well as many own-account workers, may be unable to stop work, even when their health is at risk from extreme climate events.

How Climate Change is Impacting the Health and Productivity of Workers?

  • Excessive Heat:
    • Work productivity is reduced at high temperatures because it is either too hot to work or workers have to work at a slower pace.
    • It projected that by 2030, 2.2% of total working hours worldwide will be lost to high temperatures a productivity loss equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs.
    • Heat stress is projected to reduce global gross domestic product (GDP) by US$2,400 billion in 2030.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation:
  • Extreme Weather Events:
    • The financial implications of extreme weather events include damage to infrastructure and buildings, reduced labor productivity, lower consumption and investment and disruption to global trade flows.
    • Extreme heat and flooding are threatening key apparel production hubs, with four countries vital for fashion production at risk of losing US$65 billion in export earnings and 1 million potential jobs by 2030.
  • Workplace Air Pollution:
    • The financial implications of outdoor air pollution, which include impacts on labor productivity, health expenditures and agricultural crop yields, are projected to lead to global economic costs that gradually increase to 1% of global GDP by 2060.
    • Global air pollution related healthcare costs are estimated to increase from US$21 billion in 2015 to US$176 billion in 2060.
  • Vector-Borne Diseases:
    • Endemic vector-borne disease has been associated with substantial negative impacts on long-term economic development in many regions in Africa and Asia and the Pacific.
    • Certain macroeconomic studies have found that in highly endemic countries, malaria may be responsible for reducing economic growth by more than one percentage point a year.
  • Agrochemicals:

What are the Initiatives to Protect Workers and Workplaces at Global Level?

  • Japan: In Japan, the prevention of heatstroke is one of the targeted outcomes of the 14th National Occupational Accident Prevention Plan 2023-27, with two specific indicators:
    • Increased number of establishments addressing heat stress based on the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) value
    • Reduction of increased rate of heatstroke death.
  • Belgium: The Belgian National Plan of Action to Improve the Well-being of Workers 2022-27, states that working in very high temperatures requires adjustments to be made to technical preventive measures (particularly ventilation and heating), the organization of work, and the PPE made available to workers.
  • France: In France, the National Plan for the Prevention of Serious and Fatal Injuries at Work 2022-25 identifies that the monitoring of mortality and serious injuries from heat stress is a key measure to improve knowledge and gain a better understanding of the circumstances in which serious and fatal heat-related injuries occur.
  • Spain: The Spanish Strategy for Safety and Health at Work 2023-27 lays out actions for the improvement and control of working conditions in activities most affected by environmental changes.
  • China: Outdoor work must cease when air temperature exceeds 40°C (Administrative Measures on Heatstroke Prevention 2012).
  • South Africa: Employers must take steps to mitigate heat stress if the average hourly WBGT exceeds 30°C.

What are Steps Taken by India to Protect Workers and Workplaces?

What are the Recomnedations of ILO?

  • Excessive Heat:
    • Employers should, if practicable, eliminate the need for work in hot conditions.
    • The air may be cooled by evaporation, for example by water sprays, in addition to or instead of ventilation.
    • Employers should arrange a work-rest cycle for exposed workers, either in the workplace or in a cooler restroom.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation:
    • Protect workers by appropriate clothing and personal protection, such as sunscreen ointment or lotions and eye protection, when necessary..
    • Minimize exposure of workers to the sun by organizing the work so that it can be carried out in the shade.
  • Extreme Weather Events:
    • Employers should ensure that the necessary information, internal communication and coordination are provided to protect all people in the event of an emergency at the worksite.
    • Provide relevant information and training to all members in emergency prevention, preparedness and response procedures.
  • Workplace Air Pollution:
    • Working environment shall be kept free from any hazard due to air pollution, noise or vibration by technical measures applied to new plant or processes in design or installation, or added to existing plant or processes.
  • Vector-Borne Diseases:
  • Agrochemicals:
    • Ensure that workers are not exposed to chemicals to an extent which exceeds exposure limits.
    • Choice of chemicals and technology that eliminate or minimize the risk.


Climate change poses significant risks to workers globally, with outdoor workers facing heightened exposure to extreme temperatures and weather events. Initiatives by various countries, such as Japan, Belgium, and India, emphasize the importance of proactive measures to protect workers' health and well-being. International Labour Organization underscore the necessity of comprehensive strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change on workplace safety and productivity.

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