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April 24, 2024

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Employers urged to respond to climate change and occupational risks as part of national day

Employers are being urged to respond to the impact of climate change on occupational safety and health as part of World Day for Safety and Health at Work.

The international day, led by the International Labour Organization (ILO), falls on April 28, and will see issues such as heat stress, UV radiation, air pollution and major industrial accidents discussed and mitigated for.

SunManal Azzi, ILO’s Occupational Safety and Health Team Lead said: “2.41 billion workers are exposed to excessive heat at work every single year, and the total number has gone up over 35% over the last two decades. Our most recent data shows that over 26.2 million people are living with chronic kidney disease related to workplace heat stress.

“Excessive heat kills around 19,000 workers and injures around 23 million workers every year. UV radiation is impacting even more workers, around 1.6 billion and killing 19,000 per year due to skin cancer.

“Outdoor workers are also vulnerable to vector borne diseases which kill around 15,000 workers every year…The cumulative effect may pose an unprecedented threat to humanity and we do not have the full picture of the real impact yet…Climate change is a health issue. It is a workplace issue.”

Mitigation strategies 

Alex Minett, Head of Global New Markets at Veriforce CHAS, said there are some risks and mitigation strategies employers can do.

“Climate change poses significant challenges to occupational health and safety, it is no longer a distant threat but a present reality with significant impacts.

“As its effects intensify, employers must recognise and address the exacerbated risks their workers face.”

He added: “From heat stress to increased exposure to air pollution, it helps to be vigilant and proactive in addressing climate change-associated risks.

“Integrating climate concerns into occupational safety and health practices can create safer working environments in the face of a rapidly changing climate.”

Further reading: Don’t sweat it – Staying cool in PPE

Avoiding exposure 

Advice to mitigate against heat stress – caused by rising temperatures due to climate change which heightens the risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke – include providing access to shaded areas or designated rest breaks in cool environments to allow workers to seek refuge, reducing the risk of overheating. 

To avoid dehydration, heat cramps, and, in severe cases, heat-related fatalities it is also advised workers have ample access to drinking water and to schedule strenuous tasks during cooler parts of the day.

UV radiation can cause sunburn, premature skin ageing, and an increased likelihood of developing skin cancer – advice to mitigate these risks includes providing appropriate protective clothing – such as long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats – to shield workers from direct sun exposure, UV-blocking sunglasses and broad-spectrum sun protection.

Further reading: A third of outdoor workers don’t apply sun cream, new research has found

To avoid exposure to air pollutants employers can reduce emissions within the workplace through the adoption of cleaner technologies and processes, provide respiratory protection equipment, such as masks or respirators, and ensure they are appropriately fitted and upgraded when needed.

Extreme weather events linked to climate change, such as hurricanes, floods, and severe storms, can lead to infrastructure damage, chemical spills, fires, and other hazardous situations.

Advice to mitigate these risks is to implement comprehensive risk management measures such as a risk assessment or comprehensive emergency preparedness plans and ensure infrastructure and equipment can withstand extreme weather conditions as well as regular training on emergency procedures and protocols for workers.

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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