This year’s ILO World Health and Safety Day, focusses on climate change and occupational health and safety.

Climate change has resulted in extreme weather and climates around the world, as evidenced by the frequency and severity of heatwaves, heavy rain, and wildfires.

Keep reading to learn about the various climate-related hazards impacting occupational health and safety, including excessive heat, ultraviolet radiation, extreme weather events, workplace air pollution, vector-borne diseases, and agrochemical exposure, along with strategies to protect workers.

Climate-related hazards

Excessive heat

Rising global temperatures due to climate change, will result in more frequent and severe heatwaves, causing increased mortality, reduced productivity and damage to infrastructure.

Those most at risk include outdoor workers in physically demanding jobs, and indoor workers in poor ventilated workplaces where temperature is not regulated. Heat-related risks are influenced by environmental conditions, physical exertion and clothing or equipment.

Different adverse health impacts have been associated with workplace heat stress. Acute effects range from mild to severe and include heatstroke, heat exhaustion, rhabdomyolysis, heat syncope, heat cramps, heat rash and even death.

Work productivity is reduced at high temperatures, the ILO predicts that by 2030 2.2% of total working hours worldwide will be lost to high temperatures. There are simple and effective interventions to prevent heat stress:

  • Breaks – Can be used to reduce the risk of hyperthermia despite hot working conditions. Regular breaks, in shaded or cooled areas where possible, slow down the build-up of heat in the body from prolonged work activity. They have been shown to be effective in some industries, for example agriculture and tourism.
  • Hydration – The single most important and feasible strategy. 750ml of water every hour of work in the heat has been found to reduce occupational health strain without impacting labour productivity.
  • Mechanisation – Can enhance labour productivity without increasing heat strain.
  • Clothing – Loose, light-coloured, breathable work coveralls have been shown to reduce occupational heat strain in agricultural workers by 0.4°C. Ventilated garments, such as short-sleeved shirts with integrated electric fans, reduce heat strain in agricultural workers, but have limited practicality. Using a bandana soaked in cool water has been shown to be a very effective option to reduce heat related illness.

Education programmes are key to ensuring employers and workers are aware of excessive heat in the workplace and its associated risks. Training may include recognition of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, steps to reduce the risk of ill-health and the proper care of heat-protective equipment.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation

Solar UV radiation is a form of non-ionizing radiation. The quantity of solar UV radiation reaching earth is reduced by ozone molecules in the upper atmosphere. The gradual thinning of the ozone layer, caused by the release of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) from industry and other human activities, is therefore a major cause for concern.

Solar UV radiation is a particular problem for outdoor workers, who are exposed to UV radiation doses at least two to three times higher than indoor workers and often to daily doses five times above internationally recommended limits.

UV radiation can be especially hazardous for workers, as they may be unaware that they are being exposed to dangerously high levels.

To protect your workers, it is important that you (as employer’s) inform them of the risks, and they are encouraged to cover up when working outdoors.

The most effective intervention programmes are education, especially on prevention of skin cancer; provision of shaded work areas; avoid work being carried out in direct sunlight during the hottest part of the day; use sunscreen and sun-protective clothing.

Extreme weather events

Thousands of people are killed and injured every year in extreme weather events and natural disasters, such as floods, drought, wildfires and hurricanes.

Workers may be exposed during the event, in the immediate aftermath or during clean-up operations.

To protect your workers, it is important that you provide information and advice on disaster management, especially in areas prone to extreme weather events or natural disasters, these should include preparedness planning and way to respond in the event of a crisis situation.

Raising awareness of the effects of extreme weather events on the safety and health of workers will increase the knowledge and understanding of both employers and workers and facilitate lasting behavioural changes.

Workplace air pollution

Different air pollutants increase global warming, and global warming in turn leads to the formation of air pollutants.

Modified weather patterns due to climate change have influenced levels of outdoor air pollutants, such as ground-level ozone, fine (PM2.5) and course (PM10) particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and sulphur dioxide (SO2).

The rising number of wildfires will also increase emissions of particulate matter and ozone precursors. Climate change can also alter concentrations of indoor air pollutants, which may come from indoor sources, for example mould and volatile organic compounds, or may be transported into the building with outdoor air.

Greater exposures are observed for outdoor workers in areas with high levels of air pollution generated by heavy traffic or industries.

To protect your workers, reduce exposure through rotating work roles, implement medical surveillance programmes, recording pollution levels and reporting cases of occupational diseases that may be caused by air pollution, as well as providing PPE.

Vector-borne diseases

Vector-borne diseases are illnesses caused by parasites, viruses and bacteria that are transmitted by vectors, such as mosquitos, ticks and fleas.

Climate change has been linked with an increased risk of vector-borne diseases in workers through its effects on vector population sizes, survival rates and reproduction, along with its broader impacts on natural ecosystems and human systems.

The greatest burden of these diseases is in tropical and subtropical areas, and they disproportionately affect the poorest populations.

However, as climate change worsens, models project a substantial expansion of regions with a suitable climate for many vector-borne diseases.

To protect your workers, you will need to understand what vector-borne diseases are in the areas that you work in, these can be found via local (country) Public Health bodies.

The ILO technical guidance on Biological Hazards in the Working Environment state that employers should have systems in place to identify biological hazards, make risk assessments, and take reasonable and practicable measures to eliminate or, if this is not possible, control biological risks to safety and health. Preventive and protective measures should be implemented, in consultation with workers and their representatives, and in line with the hierarchy of controls.


An increase in pesticide use has been identified as an important impact of climate change on worker safety and health. Pesticide use is directly impacted by pesticide efficacy, crop characteristics and pest occurrence, all of which are influenced by climate change. To protect your workers who may be exposed to pesticides, a thorough risk assessment should be carried out; identify which pesticides are present and the workers exposed to them; the exposure pathways and the tasks being carried out.

How can Cardinus help

To protect workers against the effects of climate change on their roles, we would advise to go back the basics, risk assess and provide training.

How do each of the climate-related hazards affect your workers?

Talk to your workers who are affected by climate change, ask what they need to do their job and how it directly affects them.

Provide information on how workers can protect themselves.

If the role requires PPE (including RPE), make sure workers know how to wear it correctly, how to maintain and store it, and who they need to contact to get replacements.

We have a team of Health and Safety specialists who can help at every step of the way, contact us.  .


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