Better Health for Workers: Green Offices, Factories and Hospitals can Help, but What is the Future for Outdoor Workers?

“Green Buildings and Health”appears in the September issue of Current Environmental Health Reports, and investigates indoor air quality in offices, factories, and hospitals, as well as homes. The authors, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, state that evidence points to superior air quality in green buildings versus non-green buildings, resulting in direct health benefits for the occupants. They propose a framework for identifying direct, objective and leading “Health Performance Indicators” for use in future studies of buildings and health.

Concerning outdoor workers, a study led by Sir David King, the U.K. Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Climate Change, is relevant. Climate Change: A Risk Assessment  is a broad study, but includes discussion of heat stress, and the elevated risk which workers face. Using the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety thresholds regarding Wet Bulb Globe Temperatures (WBGT),  , the King report defines an environment as ‘too hot to work’ if the average daily maximum WBGT is 36°C or more for a month. The report states that climate change will likely increase the probability of crossing that temperature threshold in North India, Southeast China, and Southeast USA.

Other studies examining the impact of climate change on human health were released over the summer:

“Unraveling the Relationship between Climate Change and Health “  in the New York Times (July 14); “Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health” in The Lancet (June)(registration required); and Climate Change and Public Health, a book edited by Barry S. Levy and Jonathan A. Patz, available from Oxford University Press  . It has a chapter on occupational health. Finally, “Health and climate benefits of different energy-efficiency and renewable energy choices” was published in Nature Climate Change (August 31) The study by Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment showed that “energy efficiency measures and low-carbon energy sources can save a region between $5.7 million and $210 million annually, based on the accepted dollar value of human life. Those benefits depend on the type of low-carbon energy involved and the population density of the area surrounding a coal-fired power plant whose emissions are reduced by a clean energy project.”

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