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World environment day

Date posted
03 June 2024
Eloise Byrne CertIOSH
Estimated reading time
3 minute read

To mark the UN’s World Environment Day (05 June 2024), IOSH’s Eloise Byrne looks at the impact of climate change on rising heat stress risks and what policy makers and occupational safety and health (OSH) professionals can do to manage these risks.

Heat stress1 is a dangerous condition that occurs when the body’s ways of controlling internal temperature start to fail, and it can be life-threatening if not detected and treated early enough.

As our environment warms through climate change, we will continue to see increases in extreme temperatures and adverse weather events that increase the risk of heat stress for workers. So, it’s important we do everything we can to plan for, and manage, those risks.

Who’s most at risk?

Although the increase in the risk of heat stress is likely to be felt globally, the impact will likely be felt the most in lower-middle and low-income countries, and most profoundly in Southern Asia and Western Africa.

Heat stress in these regions is also predicted to have an economic impact, with a loss of 5.3 and 4.8 per cent of working hours respectively by 2030. It’s also likely to be felt most critically in certain industries, with the agricultural sector predicted to account for 60 per cent of lost working hours by 2030 and construction for 19 per cent in these regions.2

How can policy manage the risk?

Many countries and regions have policies in place that protect workers from the risks of heat stress.

Puglia, Italy

Following a public health emergency in 2021 due to extreme temperatures, Puglia enacted an ordinance prohibiting outdoor agricultural work during the hottest hours (from 12:30 to 16:00) for the days that are forecasted as “high risk”. Risk is assessed using Workmate – a national project aimed at assessing the impact of environmental thermal stress on workers' health and productivity.3

Middle Eastern regions

Midday work bans on outdoor labour are common in the summer months in the Middle East and are enforced with penalties. One of these is Qatar, where workers are not allowed to work outside from 10 to 3:30 from 01 June to 15 September. In addition to this, regardless of the time, all work must stop if the wet-bulb globe temperature rises above 32.1 degrees.4 Employers must also provide training on heat stress, free and cool drinking water and access to a shaded rest area.

What can OSH professionals do to manage the risks?

  • Educate employees at risk on the danger of overexposure to the sun, including UV exposure and risks of heat stroke. Provide training on how workers can take care of themselves in heat, including drinking water.
  • If reasonably practicable, minimise exposure to direct sunlight between the hours of 11 and 3 by organising shift patterns differently and utilising worker job rotation.
  • Allow regular breaks and ensure that rest breaks can be taken indoors or in the shade, away from the sun. Provide facilities for workers to have access to cold, fresh water.
  • Adapt workwear to provide clothing that is appropriate for the hot weather, including eyewear with UV protection, wide brimmed hats, and long-sleeved tops/trousers.
  • Provide health monitoring for workers as part of the organisation's occupational health programme, as well as providing guidance for workers to regularly check their skin for changes.
  • For workers who work in an office, suggestions include relaxing dress codes, using blinds and air conditioning and, if possible, locating desks away from direct sunlight.


  1. (n.d.). Heat stress – Temperature - HSE. [online] Available at:
  2. Working on a WARMER planet. (n.d.). Available at:
  3. The Project, Worklimate – Available at:
  4. Ensuring safety and health at work in a changing climate Global report. (n.d.). Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2024].

Last updated: 07 June 2024

Eloise Byrne CertIOSH

Job role
OSH Content Developer


  • Environment and climate


  • building standards
  • Protecting outdoor workers
  • Protecting workers from climate change
  • The impacts of climate change on OSH