Blog Post - World Day for Safety and Health at Work

As we observe World Day for Safety and Health at Work and Workers' Memorial Day on April 28th, we are reminded of the sobering reality that workplace fatalities continue to occur. In 2022 alone, 195 workers in Australia lost their lives due to work-related incidents, a figure that underscores the critical importance of prioritising workplace health and safety (figures via Safe Work Australia). This is a heartbreaking number, and highlights the significance of workplace health and safety. 

In recent years, the intersection of climate change and workplace safety has emerged as a pressing concern for organisations worldwide. Recognising this, many companies are directing their focus towards understanding and mitigating the impacts of climate change on workplace safety and health. In this month's blog post, we explore some of the impacts our changing climate can have on workers and ways to minimise risks within these environments. 

Extreme Weather 

Extreme weather, exacerbated by climate change, poses significant risks to workers across various sectors. As temperatures rise, industries such as agriculture, construction, and outdoor labour experience heightened dangers from heat-related illnesses and diseases. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) highlights how working in extreme weather conditions can lead to fatigue, increased workplace injuries, and stress-related ailments. Moreover, elevated levels of airborne pollution during heat waves contribute to a surge in hospitalisations and fatalities, and heightened UV exposure places workers at risk of long-term health issues like skin cancer and eye damage.

Strategies for minimising workplace injury due to extreme weather can include: 

  • Implementing heat stress management programs, including regular breaks, access to shaded areas, and hydration stations.

  • Providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as lightweight, breathable clothing, and sunscreen for outdoor workers.

  • Utilising engineering controls like industrial fans, misting systems, or air conditioning to reduce temperatures in hot environments.

  • Scheduling outdoor work during cooler times of the day, such as early morning or late afternoon.

  • Training workers to recognise the symptoms of heat-related illnesses and encourage them to report any signs promptly.

Natural disasters 

The frequency and intensity of natural disasters have also surged due to climate change, posing additional threats to worker safety. In December 2023, A World Health Organisation (WHO) statement noted the year had witnessed “an alarming surge in climate-related disasters, including wildfires, heatwaves and droughts, leading to the displacement of populations, agricultural losses and heightened air pollution. The ongoing climate crisis has significantly increased the risk of life-threatening diseases such as cholera, malaria and dengue.” (figures via the World Health Organisation WHO). 

Strategies for minimising workplace injury due to Natural disasters can include: 

  • Developing and regularly updating emergency preparedness and response plans tailored to specific hazards (e.g., wildfires, floods).

  • Conducting regular drills and simulations to ensure workers are familiar with evacuation procedures and emergency protocols.

  • Investing in infrastructure improvements to enhance building resilience against natural disasters, such as retrofitting structures to withstand seismic activity or reinforcing roofs against high winds.

Rising Costs and Economic Stability

In addition to direct health risks, the economic ramifications of climate change affect both businesses and workers alike. Rising costs of energy, fuel, and essential goods impact household budgets and place additional mental strain on workers. Economic instability resulting from climate-related disruptions further compounds the challenges faced by businesses and workers alike, contributing to fear and uncertainty in job security and business success. 

Strategies for minimising workplace stress due to rising costs & economic instability: 

  • Implementing energy-saving measures within the workplace, such as upgrading to energy-efficient appliances, installing LED lighting, or optimising heating and cooling systems.

  • Advocating for policies that support sustainable business practices, renewable energy adoption, and carbon pricing to address the root causes of climate change and reduce long-term economic risks.

  • Offering financial wellness programs and resources to help workers manage budgetary challenges resulting from rising costs.

  • Exploring alternative transportation options or incentivise carpooling to mitigate the impact of fuel price fluctuations on commuting expenses.

  • Diversifying supply chains and sources of raw materials to mitigate disruptions and price fluctuations caused by climate-related events.

Business premises & housing challenges 

As climate change reshapes our environments, certain areas may become increasingly challenging to inhabit and operate in. Business premises and housing located in vulnerable regions may face heightened risks from extreme weather events, which will require adaptation and resilience measures to safeguard workers and assets.

Strategies for minimising risks of damage to business and staff housing may include: 

  • Conducting risk assessments to identify vulnerabilities in business premises and housing located in high-risk areas, such as floodplains or bushfire-prone zones.

  • Investing in infrastructure upgrades and resilience measures, such as flood barriers, fire-resistant building materials, and backup power systems.

  • Exploring remote work options or flexible scheduling arrangements to minimise exposure to hazardous environments during extreme weather events.

  • Engaging with local governments and urban planners to incorporate climate resilience considerations into zoning regulations and land use planning.

  • Providing training and resources to help employees prepare their homes and families for potential climate-related emergencies, including creating evacuation plans and assembling emergency kits.

In conclusion 

The need to prioritise workplace health and safety in the face of a changing climate cannot be overstated. Every worker deserves to return home safely at the end of the day, and no one should lose their life while making a living. Concerted efforts must be made to mitigate the risks posed by climate change on workplace safety and health. By implementing proactive measures, fostering resilience, and advocating for policies that address both workplace safety and climate action, we can strive towards creating safer, healthier, and more sustainable work environments for all.