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Climate change

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). As the environment changes and despite efforts to attain environmental sustainability, there will inevitably be consequences for workers’ safety and health.

The facts

  • 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.1
  • Almost half the global population is now exposed to high heat episodes, including more than one billion workers.2
  • A third of all heat-related deaths worldwide between 1991 and 2018 is attributed to human-induced climate change.3
  • The World Health Organization4 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 change5 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.

Our position

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 (eg 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.


  1. International Labour Organization. 2019, p 13.
  2. Ebi, K L et al. (2021) ‘Hot Weather and Heat Extremes: Health Risks’, The Lancet, 398: 10301, pp 698–708. 
  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. 
  4. World Health Organization. Climate change and health. Geneva, February 2018. 
  5. Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work. International Labour Office – Geneva, ILO, 2019