Climate change a health risk for 70% of world's workers, UN warns


More than 70% of workers around the world face climate change-related health risks, with more than 2.4 billion people likely to be exposed to excessive heat on the job, according to a report released Monday by the United Nations. 

Climate change is already having a severe impact on the safety and health of workers around the world as excessive heat, extreme weather, solar UV radiation and air pollution have resulted in an alarming increase in some diseases, according to the findings from the International Labour Organization, a U.N. agency. 

An estimated 18,970 lives are lost each year due to occupational injuries attributable to excessive heat, and more than 26.2 million people are living with chronic kidney disease related to workplace heat stress, the report states. 

More than 860,000 outdoor workers a year die from exposure to air pollution, and nearly 19,000 people die each year from non-melanoma skin cancer from exposure to solar UV radiation.

Occupational safety and health considerations must become part of our climate change responses, both policies and actions,” Manal Azzi, a team lead of occupational safety and health at the ILO, stated. 

As average temperatures rise, heat illness is a growing safety and health concern for workers throughout the world, including in the U.S. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates environmental heat exposure claimed the lives of 36 workers in 2021 and 56 in 2020.

More recently, a 26-year-old man suffered fatal heat-related injuries while working in an open sugar cane field in Belle Glade, Florida, as the heat index hit 97 degrees, the DOL said last week, citing a contractor for not protecting the worker. 

“This young man’s life ended on his first day on the job because his employer did not fulfill its duty to protect employees from heat exposure, a known and increasingly dangerous hazard,” Condell Eastmond, OSHA’s area director in Fort Lauderdale, stated of the September death. 

Exposure to environmental heat killed 999 U.S. workers from 1992 to 2021, averaging 33 fatalities a year, according to the Department of Labor. That said, statistics for occupational heat-related illnesses, injuries and deaths are likely “vast underestimates,” the agency stated. 



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