New Report: Climate Change Threatens Workers’ Health

Photo: Tomas Castelazo  Wikipedia

The Natural Resources Defense Council published a report in July that details the ways in which climate change is already making existing workplace hazards worse and also creating new ones.  Moreover, the situation will only get worse as temperatures rise and the weather becomes more extreme.  In fact, as we have seen during the pandemic, essential workers on farms, in construction, and first-responders are increasingly vulnerable to heat-related illnesses and deaths.  Indoor workers are also vulnerable to climate change — particularly teachers, janitors, and other people who spend time in older or poorly maintained buildings.  And there are also secondary impacts on workers, such as when climate events reduce the take-home pay of lower-wage workers, it is then harder to for them to afford food and health care.

Why This Matters:  There is still so much we don’t know about the health impacts of climate change.  According to NRDC, much more research is needed the effects of climate change, including exposure to wildfire smoke, impact occupational health and safety. But we know that we need to improve our workplace health and safety laws to protect the most impacted workers from climate impacts we are seeing already.  We could start by collecting more information on existing and emerging health and safety threats to vulnerable workers.

NRDC’s four basic principles of worker health and safety:

1. All workers have the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

2. All occupational injuries and illnesses can be prevented if workplace hazards are correctly identified and eliminated or adequately controlled.

3. Occupational safety and health laws and regulations need to be established, effectively communicated, periodically updated, and rigorously enforced.

4. Collective action by workers and their representatives is an essential element of workplace health and safety.

NRDC’s Recommendations

  • Modernize our health and safety laws and policies to address the realities of the climate crisis and ensure that enforcement funding and staffing are up to the challenge of protecting workers.
  • Strengthen the role of unions and other worker organizations to ensure workers are full partners in the effort to protect their health and safety from climate change.
  • Build a better system to track, analyze, and quickly act on existing and emerging health and safety threats to workers.
  • Support research on the best health and safety interventions to protect worker health from climate change.

To Go Deeper:  Read the full report here.

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