Safer Jobs and Climate

Climate-related occupational hazards have historically received little attention. In 2009, NIOSH began work to address this gap and developed a framework to identify climate-related occupational hazards. Recently, NIOSH investigators published new work in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. Based on a review and assessment of the peer-reviewed literature from 2008–2014, the article updates the original framework and identifies key priorities in research, surveillance, risk assessment, and policy development.

The updated framework identifies seven climate-related occupational hazards:

  1. Increased ambient temperatures
  2. Air pollution
  3. Ultraviolet radiation exposure
  4. Extreme weather
  5. Vector-borne diseases and expanded habitats
  6. Industrial transitions and emerging industries
  7. Changes in the built environment.

Why is climate such a risk for workers?

  • Workers are likely to have more frequent and intense exposure to hazards than the general public.
  • Employers need additional information to prepare and manage the risk for their workers.

Outdoor workers are particularly likely to be exposed to extreme heat, air pollution, UV radiation, extreme weather, and biological hazards. In many outdoor occupations, adverse health impacts are intensified by heavy exertion. Heat stress can result in illnesses such as heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat syncope, heat cramps, and heat rash or even death. Exposure to heat also increases the risk of workplace injuries, such as those caused by sweaty palms, fogged-up safety glasses, dizziness, and reduced brain function.

Worker safety must be a priority in renewable energy production and green construction. See the related NIOSH blogs: Going Green: Safe and Healthy JobsGoing Green: Safe and Healthy Jobs 2; and the NIOSH Green Jobs Spotlights.

With attention to potential hazards in new technologies, workplaces can be engineered with prevention through design (PtD) so that they meet Green environment goals while creating new safer jobs.