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Protecting workers from the impacts of climate change

An occupational safety and health perspective

Date posted
29 April 2024
Benafsha Delgado
Estimated reading time
5 minute read

This year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work (Sunday 28 April 2024) was based around the impacts of climate change on occupational safety and health (OSH). To mark the day, IOSH and the UN Global Compact Network UK have united to call for corporate action by advocating for a just transition.

As we face an uncertain future, one thing we can be sure of is that the world of work will continue to change. Looking at new and emerging risks, we know that this change will be driven by varied factors, with climate change being one of the major influences. It is only right then that this year’s World Day for Safety and Health at Work focuses on climate change, its impact on OSH, and the actions we need to take urgently.

With a safe and healthy working environment now a fundamental principle and right at work, responsible corporate action should be founded on sustainable business conduct and respect for human rights, guided by the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact. Strong OSH policies contribute significantly to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG1 (No Poverty), SDG3 (Good Health and Well-Being), SDG8 (Decent Work) and SDG13 (Climate Action). SDG Target 8.8 makes OSH a sustainable development priority.

The impacts of climate change on OSH

Climate change is already posing a multidimensional challenge to OSH, with a significant impact on the health of workers, reduced productivity, and economic losses. The direct economic costs to health alone are estimated to be between US$2 to 4 billion per year. A loss of 80 million jobs due to heat stress is expected by 2030.

Workers are often the first to be exposed to the impacts of climate change. Outdoor workers, those who work in hot environments (including indoors), emergency responders, and those employed in jobs linked to natural resources (for example agriculture, fishing, and forestry), will be at increased risk of heat stress and other heat-related conditions. Associated health effects include injuries, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory conditions, and effects on psychosocial health. Migrant workers and those in the informal economy are at a higher risk, often with limited access to social protection.

The economic and social consequences of climate change have the potential to further exacerbate social inequalities, affect labour and human rights, and generate civil unrest and strikes, resulting in less competitive businesses, sectors, and markets.

The future will be characterised by increasing temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and an increasing number of extreme weather events, such as droughts, storms, and floods, with inevitable consequences for working environments and working conditions. Protecting against this requires climate change adaption and mitigation measures to be put in place now. Is the world of work prepared?

A solution-based approach: a just transition through an OSH lens

The just transition is a principles-based approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation. It ensures an orderly, inclusive, and equitable move towards net-zero emissions and climate resilience.

As climate change shapes the future of work, a just transition will safeguard workers’ fundamental right to safety and health while preparing for potential hazards in the transition to a decarbonised labour market. It is crucial to consider OSH in the transition, as risks can emerge not only due to the changing environment but also from new work processes and hazardous materials involved.

Global leaders must step up and act, implementing regulatory frameworks that prioritise and preserve human rights, decent work, and worker protections to address new and emerging hazards and risks related to the impact of climate change on workers. IOSH encourages increased investment and research into protecting vulnerable workers.

OSH professionals will be increasingly called upon to help public policymakers and organisations tackle complex climate-related risks. They will implement climate change adaptation strategies and ensure better anticipation, evaluation, and control strategies for occupational hazards.

As we head towards an uncertain future, it is increasingly evident there are proactive steps we can take to shape it. World Day for Safety and Health at Work is an opportunity to raise awareness of the risks. We need collective action from governments and businesses, supported by the OSH profession to ensure that a safe and healthy working environment is provided as a fundamental principle and right at work. The time for action is now.

Driving progress: a call to action for businesses

What can businesses do to address the impacts of climate change in OSH and protect their workforce?

    • Identify the hazards and risks associated with climate change, as a first step in managing transition plans through due diligence.
    • Embed OSH policies and risk assessments at all levels as a fundamental component of climate change strategies. Risk assessments should consider who the risk groups are and whether there are particularly vulnerable groups.
    • Develop effective OSH policies alongside evidence-based climate adaptation and mitigation measures, reconsider business operating models, and review and revise assessments, policies, and procedures to help reduce risks from climate hazards.
    • Identify, prevent, and protect workers against new risks produced by rapid technological advancements, including new work processes and materials.
    • Depending on the identified risk, considerations may extend to whether there is a need to adjust building infrastructure and design.
    • Provide awareness and training programmes to ensure workers in green jobs are adequately equipped to address new OSH concerns resulting from the transition to renewable energy sources.
    • Start planning for a just transition based on continuous social dialogue and stakeholder engagement that optimises social, economic, and employment impacts on the journey to net-zero emissions and environmental sustainability.
    • Building on the International Labour Organization’s Guidelines for a just transition, we have developed the below recommendations for businesses.
      1. Read the Introduction to just transition: a business brief.
      2. Take concrete actions to advance a Just Transition as part of the Forward Faster initiative.
      3. Join the managing climate-related business risks through a Just transition webinar series.
      4. Revisit the Inclusion and occupational safety and health: new approaches for business webinar series.
      5. Review UN Global Compact Network UK’s climate and human rights workstream programme offering.
      6. Read IOSH’s policy position on climate change.
      7. Look at the IOSH Magazine article The great climate change disruption.
      8. Check out the IOSH blog Bold steps needed on worker safety in climate crisis.

Now, at this critical juncture, businesses must step up alongside governments and experts and take decisive actions. Join our call to drive the imperative for a just transition, ensuring OSH is prioritised to safeguard the workforce now and in the future, leaving no one behind.

Benafsha Delgado, Head of Social Sustainability at the UN Global Compact Network UK and Ruth Wilkinson, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at IOSH.

Last updated: 03 May 2024

Benafsha Delgado

Job role
Head of social sustainability
UN Global Compact Network UK


  • Environment and climate


  • building standards
  • The impacts of climate change on OSH
  • All eyes on Geneva for next stage in climate risk debate
  • Bold steps needed on worker safety in climate crisis