Climate change and occupational safety and health IOSH policy position
We see the challenges and threats of climate change now and continuing into the future, characterised by increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, increased occurrence and intensity of extreme weather events (such as droughts, storms, floods) and so on. As the environment changes and degrades as a consequence of these impacts, and despite efforts to attain environmental sustainability, there will inevitably be consequences for people and for workers’ safety and health.
For many organisations, particularly those with outdoor workers or operations in locations likely to be affected by climate change events, the changes will result in new hazards or increased risk to workers. These will undoubtedly require significant revisions in their operating models and associated systems, policies, control strategies and practices.
Occupational safety and health professionals are well placed in organisations to assist and advise employers on occupational safety and health risk management and control strategies for the protection of workers. They will be increasingly called on to help public policy-makers and organisations tackle the complex work-related health challenges that result from climate change, such as air pollution and extreme weather impacts.
- Heat impacts workers at even moderate temperatures, and there is reduced labour productivity above 24–26°C, but once temperatures rise to ‘33–34°C, a worker operating at moderate work intensity loses 50 per cent of his or her work capacity. 
- Almost half of the global population is now exposed to high heat episodes, including more than one billion workers. 
- A third of all heat-related deaths worldwide between 1991 and 2018 is attributed to human-induced climate change. 
- The World Health Organization  determined that between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250.000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria and heat stress.
- The highest impacts of climate change  tend to impact on the working poor, those working in the informal economy, seasonal and casual workers, the self-employed, micro- and small-sized enterprises, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) due to high vulnerability and low adaptive capacity.
- Goal 13 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts – promotes the need to identify adequate prevention and protection measures that seek to ensure occupational safety and health.
- United Nations Global Compact Ten Principles include principles regarding the environment, as well as human rights, labour and anti-corruption.
As climate-related issues and risks can threaten business operations, supply chains, workers, communities and wider society, sound occupational safety and health will be a pivotal element in achieving socially and environmentally responsible business.
In all likelihood, the future will be characterised by increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and the increased occurrence and intensity of extreme weather events (such as droughts, storms, floods). As the environment changes and degrades, and despite efforts to ensure environmental sustainability, this will inevitably have consequences for occupational safety and health.
For many organisations, particularly those with outdoor workers or operations in locations likely to be affected by climate change events, the changes will undoubtedly require significant revisions in operating models and associated systems, policies and practices.
Occupational safety and health professionals will be increasingly called on to help public policy-makers and organisations tackle the complex work-related health challenges from climate change, environmental degradation, air pollution and extreme weather. They will help to ensure climate change adaptation strategies, better anticipation, evaluation and control strategies of occupational hazards. Risk assessments should consider risk groups and vulnerable groups and include gender-sensitive risk assessments so that prevention and control strategies are relevant to the risk.
Workers, especially those who work outdoors or in hot indoor environments, emergency responders to natural disasters and those employed in jobs linked to natural resources (e.g., agriculture, fishing and forestry) will be at increased risk of heat stress and other heat-related conditions, illnesses and disorders, occupational injuries, stress, fatigue and reduced productivity at work, if adequate controls are not put in place.
- IOSH’s ‘Catch the wave’ campaign demonstrates why occupational safety, health and wellbeing is the foundation for socially sustainable business. As part of the initiative IOSH has produced a short online course exploring the definitions of social sustainability and human capital, and what this means for business.
- ISO 45001 can support sustainable development practices and helps to tackle occupational safety related-risks. On the same basis, ISO 14090:2019 Adaptation to climate change — Principles, requirements and guidelines; and ISO 14091:2021 Adaptation to climate change — Guidelines on vulnerability, impacts and risk assessment help organisations assess climate change impacts and put plans in place for effective adaptation.
- IOSH reinforced its commitment to building a sustainable future by joining the United Nations (UN) Global Compact – the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative – as a participant.
- IOSH’s Competency framework reflects on how OSH professionals need a broader range of skills, knowledge in the field of climate change and OSH.
- IOSH’s Environment for Business gives all managers the latest understanding and practical guidance to integrate environmental management and sustainability into everyday business activity.
- IOSH’s Environment Awareness e-learning training looks at the problems faced by our environment and addresses our responsibilities in the workplace to help reduce negative environmental impact.
- The IOSH’s Environmental and Waste Management Group aims to support both the increasing number of safety and health professionals across all business sectors who have taken on environmental responsibilities as part of their role, and those working in the waste or other environmental sectors.
- IOSH’s commitment to sustainability is reflected in the IOSH Sustainability Statement of Intent.
- The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board consultation on Human Capital research project, February 2021
- The IFRS Foundation Consultation Paper on Sustainability Reporting, December 2020
- GRI Draft GSSB Work Program 2020-22 and Project Schedule, June 2020
- Response to the Summary of alignment discussions among leading sustainability and integrated reporting organisations CDP, CDSB, GRI, IIRC and SASB, 2020
- Review of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive, European Commission, 2020
- Human Capital Indicators. UK Office for National Statistics. October 2019.
- Building a regulatory framework for effective stewardship – Discussion Paper DP19/1. IOSH response to the Financial Conduct Authority and Financial Reporting Council discussion paper consultation. April 2019
- Social & Human Capital Protocol and Charter. November 2018.
- Non-financial reporting Directive: a call for views on effective reporting alongside proposals to implement EU requirements (PDF 393KB), UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills, 2016
- Consultation on 'Non-binding guidelines for reporting of non-financial information by companies' (PDF 141KB), European Commission, 2016
- Corporate Human Rights Benchmark consultation. Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, 2015
- Consultation on transparency in supply chains in the Modern Slavery Bill. UK Home Office, 2015
- The Accounting Revolution and the New Sustainability: implications for the OSH profession (PDF 6.7MB), Center for Safety and Health Sustainability, 2015
- International Labour Organization. 2019, p 13.
- Ebi, K L et al. (2021) ‘Hot Weather and Heat Extremes: Health Risks’, The Lancet, 398: 10301, pp 698–708. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01208-3
- Vicedo-Cabrera, A M et al. (2021) ‘The Burden of Heat-related Mortality Attributable to Recent Human-induced Climate Change’, Nature Climate Change, 11, pp 492–500. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-021-01058-x
- World Health Organization. Climate change and health. Geneva, February 2018. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health
- Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work. International Labour Office – Geneva, ILO, 2019