How climate change will affect workers
A number of both indoor and outdoor worker populations may be particularly vulnerable to climate variations. Examples include: emergency responders, health care workers, fire fighters, utility workers, farmers, manufacturing workers and transportation workers. Climate conditions can amplify existing health and safety issues and could lead to new unanticipated hazards. Workers may also be exposed to weather and climate conditions that the general public can elect to avoid. For worker populations such as migrant workers and day laborers who may have inadequate housing or other social and economic constraints, the adverse health effects of exposure to climate-related hazards in the workplace could be exacerbated by exposure to similar hazards in the home.
Examples of climate related occupational hazards include high temperatures, air pollution, extreme weather and natural disasters, and biological hazards.
- Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments
Workers who are exposed to extreme heat, prolonged work in hot environments or engaged in strenuous physical activity may be at risk for heat stress. Heat stress can lead to heat stroke, heat exhaustion, rhabdomyolysis (muscle tissue breakdown), and death. Occupational exposure to heat has also been associated with increased risk of traumatic injury. More NIOSH resources are available on the heat stress topic page: www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/heatstress
- Air Pollution
Air pollution has been linked with both acute and chronic health effects such as heart disease, respiratory diseases, and allergic disorders. Air pollutants that are known to affect respiratory health include ground level ozone and particle pollution. Numerous factors including worksite location and weather conditions may affect occupational exposure to air pollution. Current and forecasted air quality index information, and air quality action day alerts for your location are available at www.airnow.gov
- Extreme Weather
Extreme weather events or natural disasters such as floods, landslides, storms, lightning, droughts, and wildfires are associated with occupational deaths, injuries, diseases, and mental stress. Workers involved in rescue, cleanup and restoration are exposed to hazardous conditions both during and after extreme weather events.
- Biological Hazards
Climate conditions such as temperature and rainfall affect the prevalence and distribution of vectors, pathogens, hosts and allergens. Associated health impacts include food-borne and water-borne diseases; asthma and allergies triggered by pollen; mold-related asthma; skin and lung irritation from poisonous plants; and vector-borne disease such as Lyme disease, dengue, chikungunya and Zika virus disease. The most vulnerable occupational groups may include outdoor workers, emergency responders, post-disaster remediation and construction workers, and health care workers. In addition to the direct health impacts associated with biological hazards, exposure to pesticides has been associated with a variety of adverse occupational health outcomes.
- Indoor Climate
High temperatures increase the need for climate-controlled buildings. Building-related illnesses (e.g., tight building syndrome or sick building syndrome), sometimes related to indoor air quality, may occur, especially in buildings with air conditioning, water damage, or energy-efficient “tight” buildings with microbial-contaminated humidifiers or air handlers that use biocides. Tight buildings may also lead to radon buildup in work areas such as smaller rooms, storage areas, or offices.
In response to concerns about our climate and environment there has been an expansion in energy efficiency and environmentally-friendly practices. For example, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that there were 769,000 renewable energy jobs in the US in 2015. In 2011, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated the number of jobs in all green goods and services to be 3.4 million, a figure that has likely increased in the years since these data were collected. It is important to ensure that worker safety and health concerns in these emerging industries are identified and addressed. More information about NIOSH’s work in this area can be found here: www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ptd/greenjobs.html