Bold steps needed on worker safety in climate crisis
- Date posted
- 15 December 2023
- Ivan Williams Jimenez
- Estimated reading time
- 3 minute read
The Cop28 conference closed in Dubai, this week, with an agreement to “transition away” from planet-warming fossil fuels.
Yet IOSH Senior Policy and Public Affairs Manager Dr Ivan Williams Jimenez still calls on world leaders and businesses to ensure the climate’s growing global impact on workers’ physical and mental health is given full prominence in their long-term planning.
The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) applauds the collective effort made to put health on the climate agenda debated at Cop28 over the past fortnight. In particular, the Cop28 inaugural Health Day focused on giving health greater prominence in climate change discussions and initiatives, increasing the amount and proportion of climate financing devoted to health and thereby stimulating cross-sector collaboration on climate and health.
A vast, evidence-based consensus points to the present and future being characterised by increasing temperatures, the spread of vector-borne disease, increased air and occupational pollution, changing precipitation patterns and an increased occurrence and intensity of extreme weather events, such as droughts, storms and floods. As the environment changes and degrades, these threats to our safety – and their associated humanitarian emergencies - will inevitably have consequences for workers’ health and will affect many groups of workers.
How global leaders respond to the growing effects of climate on health will have a profound impact on the world. At a time of deepening labour shortages, with their impact on economies, surely the challenge not to jeopardise the health and livelihoods of workers around the world has become yet more critical.
Helping vulnerable working populations to adapt to and protect themselves against climate impacts has to be central to these high-level discussions though, historically, this hasn’t always been the case. Vulnerable and disadvantaged workers, including women, ethnic minorities, migrants, older populations and those with underlying health conditions tend to be neglected by climate change national health policies and adaptation plans. These workers are more vulnerable to the damage caused by climate change and continue to be excluded from health promotion, disease prevention, treatment and access to care programmes, as well as social protection mechanisms, on a global scale.
Some workers, such as farmers, emergency responders and construction workers are disproportionately hit by extreme heat, occupational pollution and other climate change related events. Workers, especially those who work outdoors or in hot indoor environments, are being put at increased risk of heat stress and other heat-related disorders. Agriculture workers, for example, are likely to be prone to a wide variety of occupational issues, ranging from increased exposure to pesticides, to experiencing higher levels of psychological distress and mental health disorders.
Leaving vulnerable workers out in the cold is simply now unacceptable. Workers need preparedness, they need responses and protections, and they need them now. Our collective goal has to be to achieve a healthier, safer and more sustainable world of work.
So, to prevent a catastrophic surge of disease and death, I call on global leaders to urgently invest in climate adaptation solutions to safeguard workers’ health and resilience. To ensure this commitment is turned into action on the ground, we need:
- Regulatory frameworks that address the impact of climate change on workers’ health and create climate-resilient health systems
- Occupational health service and surveillance systems that take full account of the impacts of climate change
- More investment and research into protecting vulnerable workers
- Greater integration of climate change and worker-centric risk management into long-term business planning.
Let’s hope this week’s closure of Cop28 gives even sharper focus to these critical issues facing global business and how it takes care of its greatest asset – its workers.
Last updated: 31 January 2024
Ivan Williams Jimenez
- Job role
- Senior Policy and Public Affairs Manager
Environment and climate