U.K. Committee issues recommendations for heatwaves – including workplace changes

sweating office workerOn July 26, the U.K.’s Environmental Audit Committee published Heatwaves: adapting to climate change,  which examines the developing trend of heatwaves, the responsibility for heatwave protection, how to protect human health and well-being, and effects on  productivity and the economy.  The final statement on conclusions/recommendations states:  “Heatwaves can result in overheating workplaces and lower employee productivity. In 2010, approximately five million staff days were lost due to overheating above 26°C resulting in economic losses of £770 million. Given that extreme temperature events in Europe are now 10 times more likely than they were in the early 2000s, similar losses will occur more frequently. However, some businesses, particularly smaller businesses, do not have business continuity plans in place. The Government should make businesses aware of the developing threat of heatwaves and the economic consequences. Public Health England should also issue formal guidance to employers to relax dress codes and allow flexible working when heatwave alerts are issued. The Government should consult on introducing maximum workplace temperatures, especially for work that involves significant physical effort. Procurement rules should be updated so that schools and the NHS do not spend public money on infrastructure which is not resilient to heatwaves. The Department for Education should issue guidance for head teachers about safe temperatures in schools and relaxing the school uniform policy as appropriate during hot weather. ” At present, there is no set temperature limit for indoor work, (only that buildings be kept at a “reasonable” temperature)  and the government’s 2018 Heatwave Plan makes no mention of employer responsibilities or the dangers of heat stress for workers.

tuc logoSome of the Committee recommendations echo those contained in the  Trades Union Congress publication, Cool it! Reps guide on dealing with high temperatures in the workplace .  It documents examples of heat stress in workplaces, and provides checklists for union representatives in both indoor and outdoor workplaces. The Cool it! guide  recommends that a maximum indoor  temperature be set at  30°C (27°C for those doing strenuous work), and  “ a new legal duty on employers to protect outside workers by providing sun protection, water, and to organise work so that employees are not outside during the hottest part of the day.”  The guide also takes note of the  special circumstances of drivers.

Current heat-related guides and information from the government’s Health and Safety Executive are here.

Suicide and heat waves: the mental health effects related to climate change

thermometer and sunHigher temperatures increase suicide rates in the United States and Mexico”  was published in Nature Climate Change online on July 23, warning that up to 26,000 more people could die by suicide in the United States by 2050 if humans don’t reduce emissions of greenhouse gas pollution. The study has been widely reported and summarized: for example, in The Atlantic (July 23).  The authors used new statistical techniques, including analysis which correlates social media posts about depression with temperature conditions. Part of this social media analysis is based on the work of Patrick Baylis of the University of British Columbia, whose academic paper “Temperature and Temperament: Evidence from a Billion Tweets” was published by the Energy Institute at Haas, University of California at Berkeley, in November 2015.

A second article published in July 2018 is  “Associations between high ambient temperatures and heat waves with mental health outcomes: a systematic review”  appeared in the British journal  Public Health. It  reports on a literature review of 35 studies, and the authors conclude that: “High ambient temperatures have a range of mental health effects. The strongest evidence was found for increased suicide risk. Limited evidence was found for an increase in heat-related morbidity and mortality among people with known mental health problems. …. Mental health impacts should be incorporated into plans for the public health response to high temperatures, and as evidence evolves, psychological morbidity and mortality temperature thresholds should be incorporated into hot weather–warning systems.”

A 2014 article examined weekly suicide death totals and anomalies in Toronto between 1986–2009 and Jackson, Mississippi, from 1980–2006. The authors found that for both cities, warmer weeks had an increased likelihood of being associated with high-end suicide totals.  “Association of Weekly Suicide Rates with Temperature Anomalies in Two Different Climate Types” from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health is here .

The  growing literature about the impacts of climate change on mental health has been summarized in an article in Forbes magazine, “Weather And The Warm Season Are Among Factors Associated With Suicide” (June 2018) and in the  April 2018 issue of  Corporate Knights magazine. The Corporate Knights article, “Deep Impact” is by Professor Helen Berry , the inaugural Professor of Climate Change and Mental Health at the University of Sydney, in Australia.   Although her brief overview emphasizes  mental health impacts of climate-change related disasters such as floods,  it also  provides links to recent articles linking mental health with chronic climate conditions such as heat waves and drought. Some examples of Professor Berry’s research: “The importance of humidity in the relationship between heat and population mental health: Evidence from Australia” in PLoS One (2016) ; “The Effect of Extreme Heat on Mental Health – Evidence from Australia”  from the International Journal of Epidemiology (restricted access) (2015); and “Morbidity and mortality during heatwaves in Metropolitan Adelaide”  in the Medical  Journal of Australia (2007).

Professor Berry and co-author   Dominic Peel  provoked public discussion in 2015 with an article in the British Journal of Psychiatry, “Worrying about climate change: is it responsible to promote public debate?


Heat waves: How well are workers protected ?

construction drinking waterThe heat waves that have gripped much of the world in June and July have also been manifest in Canada, where as many as 70 people died in Quebec (mostly in Montreal), as temperatures stayed at over 40 degrees Celsius with the humidex. Many more are likely to have died, but Health Canada does not keep statistics on heat related deaths. In their July 7  press release  on the topic, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment  quote figures from the Climate Atlas of Canada  which  state:  “Before 2005, Montreal had, on average, 8 days per year with temperatures over 30 degrees C.  With climate change, it is predicted that Montreal will experience more than 50 days per year with extreme temperatures by 2050.” For Toronto, the prediction is for 55 days per year with temperatures over 30 degrees after 2050.

In general, public attention and interventions are normally directed to  the most vulnerable in the population: the aged, chronically ill, homeless and those living alone, as in “Doctors urge population to stay cool after dozens die during heat wave in Central Canada”  in the National Observer   (July 10). But what about workers, who may not have the option to “cool off”?

On July 17, the U.S. advocacy group Public Citizen published  Extreme Heat and Unprotected Workers  , describing the state of regulation in the U.S., current and historical statistics on heat-related illness and death, particularly for construction and farm workers, the likely exacerbation of the situation due to climate change, and making the case for a federal heat stress standard. One example: The report states that from 1992 to 2016, heat killed 783 workers in the U.S. and seriously injured nearly 70,000.  Based on this hard-hitting analysis, Public Citizen, along with United Farm Workers Foundation and Farmworker Justice, joined more than 130 public health and environmental groups in submitting a petition to the U.S.  Occupational Safety and Health Administration, calling for the agency to require employers to protect their workers from heat by imposing mandatory rest breaks, hydration and access to shade or cooled spaces, among other measures.  The report is summarized by  Inside Climate News in “Heat Wave Safety: 130 Groups Call for Protections for Farm, Construction Workers ” .

In a July article  in  Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control (CDC) , researchers recommend using a heat index of 85 degrees F as a threshold for potentially hazardous worker heat stress, rather than the current U.S. standard of 91 degrees F (32.8C).  They base this recommendation on a review of 25 incidents of outdoor occupational heat-related illnesses, including 14 deaths, that were investigated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) between 2011 and 2016.  They found a risk of illness at a heat index of just 29.4 C (85 F) –  and 6 deaths happened below 90 degrees F. The authors also noted: “Employers often obtain heat index information from publicly broadcasted weather reports or forecasts that do not necessarily reflect conditions at their work sites.”  Other  recommendations from the article:   “ a comprehensive heat-related illness prevention program should include an acclimatization schedule for newly hired workers and unacclimatized long-term workers (e.g., during early-season heat waves), training for workers and supervisors about symptom recognition and first aid (e.g., aggressive cooling of presumed heat stroke victims before medical professionals arrive), engineering and administrative controls to reduce heat stress, medical surveillance, and provision of fluids and shady areas for rest breaks.”

In Canada, Professor Glenn Kenny of the University of Ottawa is an expert on the effects of heat stress  on older people, and on workers.  Some of the studies on which he has collaborated: “Heat Exposure in the Canadian Workplace” (2010) in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine , in which he points out the strengths and weaknesses of the Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) based upon Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT), the standard used in most Canadian jurisdictions;  “Do the Threshold Limit Values for work in hot conditions adequately protect workers?”  (2016) ; and   “An evaluation of the physiological strain experienced by electrical utility workers in North America” (2015) in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene .

What are the existing heat standards for workers? A fact sheet from The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), Temperature conditions: Legislation , provides  a summary chart of Canadian legislation, ranging from Alberta, (which has guidelines only), to Ontario, which  has the most specific standards, set out in clause 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act   .  Also useful: CCOHS Fact Sheet: Humidex and work  and Thermal Comfort for Office work.  From the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers (OHCOW) – Humidex Based Heat Response Plan (2014).

In the U.S.,  Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains a web portal for working in indoor and outdoor heat  and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health portal on heat stress   is here.  NIOSH also publishes information on Hazards to Outdoor Workers   which includes heat, sun exposure, vector- borne diseases by ticks, mosquitos, and a separate fact sheet for Lyme disease(none of which have been updated since 2010) .  In February 2016, the NIOSH published  Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Heat and Hot Environments,   which updated the  previous version from 1986.

Occupational health risks created by climate change: U.S. doctors get Guidelines, France releases expert report

tick_lyme_government of ontario

Warmer temperatures have brought the Black-legged tick  to Ontario, bringing an increase of Lyme’s Disease, especially for outdoor workers.

A  Guidance Document was released by the  American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in February 2018.  Responsibilities of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Provider in the Treatment and Prevention of Climate Change-Related Health Problems  (also appearing  in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine ) is intended to set standards for physicians specializing in workplace health.  The Guidance Document  provides concise and very current information about  the direct physical impacts related to climate change (heat stress and ultraviolet exposure, air quality, and allergic sensitivities) as well as indirect impacts (disaster zone exposure, stress and mental health, and waterborne and vector-borne disease).  Most of this information is not new:  two previous major reports have covered the same ground: The Lancet Countdown Report for 2017,  (which links climate change and specific health conditions for the population at large, not just workers, and which included a report for Canada ), and the landmark U.S . Global Change Research Program report, The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment (2016)  .

What is important about this new Guidance Document?  It focuses on the workplace, and sets standards for the role of occupational health physicians which include a responsibility to protect workers.  For example:  “Provide guidance to the employers on how to protect working populations in the outdoors or in the field who are potentially exposed to the extreme temperatures…. Quickly identify employees with acute and chronic cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses within the organization who will be significantly affected by increasing temperature and worsening air quality, an increase in ozone, particulate matter, and high pollen count  ….Provide effective guidance to employers about seasonal activity and address the increasing risk of vector-borne disease among the working population…. Deliver support to the employees at risk for mental illness due to disasters, loss, and migration by providing more comprehensive programs through their employment….  The article concludes with: “ OEM providers are called to be on the forefront of emerging health issues pertaining to working populations including climate change. The competent OEM provider should address individual and organizational factors that impact the health and productivity of workers as well as create policies that ensure a healthy workforce.”

There is also a call to action in a new report from France’s Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety.  The full expert analysis is available only in French ; an English abstract is here .  The report  predicts the occupational risks associated with climate change, from now till  2050, and identifies the main drivers of change: rising temperatures, changes in  the biological and chemical environment, and a change in the frequency and intensity of extreme events.  What’s new in this report?  It highlights the breadth of impact of climate change, stating that it will affect all occupational risks, except those associated with noise and artificial radiation.  The report also makes recommendations,  urging immediate workplace awareness campaigns and training about the health effects of climate change, with a preventive focus. From the English summary: “The Agency especially recommends encouraging all the parties concerned to immediately start integrating the climate change impacts that are already perceptible, or that can be anticipated, in their occupational risk assessment approaches, in order to deploy suitable preventive measures.”  The full report (in French only):  Évaluation des risques induits par le changement climatique sur la santé des travailleurs  (262 pages) is dated January 2018 but released in April. It was requested by France’s Directorate General for Health and the Directorate General for Labour, to support the country’s 2011 National Adaptation to Climate Change Action Plan (PNACC).

102 Cities globally are sourcing 70% of their energy from renewables

Recent meetings have prompted the release of several new research reports about cities, described as the “front-line of climate action” at the 10th anniversary meetings of the EU’s Covenant of Mayors in February . The biggest meeting, and first-ever Cities and Climate Change Science Conference , was co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and was held in Edmonton, Alberta in March 5 – 7. The conference commissioned five reports , and included several others, including “Six Research Priorities for Cities and Climate Change” , which appeared in Nature in February.   Detailed daily coverage of the conference was provided by the International Institute for Sustainable Development  (IISD); the closing press release is here .

In advance of the IPCC Cities conference,  CDP released The World’s Renewable Energy Cities report , with new data that shows  that 102 cities around the world are now sourcing at least 70 percent of their electricity from renewables  (more than double the 40 cities from their list in 2015).  The 102 cities  include Auckland (New Zealand); Nairobi (Kenya); Oslo (Norway); Seattle (USA) and from Canada: Montreal, Prince George ( B.C.), Winnipeg, and  Vancouver.  The full report identifies data by type  of renewable energy: hydropower, wind, solar photovoltaics, biomass and geothermal.  Related, broader reports are: Renewable Energy in Cities: State of the Movement  (Jan. 2018), which offers a global overview of local policy developments and documents  from 2017, and Renewable Energy in Cities  (October 2016) by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

All of  these reports are more encouraging than another recent study in the news:  “Future heat waves, droughts and floods in 571 European cities”, which appeared  in Environmental Research Letters in February 2018.   These are warnings we’ve read before, but this study offers unique detail: it names cities that could be expected to experience the worst flooding in the worst-case scenario – Cork and Waterford in Ireland, Santiago de Compostela in Spain – and those that could expect the worst droughts: Malaga and Almeria in Spain. Stockholm and Rome could expect the greatest increase in numbers of heatwave days, while Prague and Vienna could see the greatest increases in maximum temperatures.

Some recent news about Canadian cities:

downtown CalgaryAs the IPCC Cities conference met in Edmonton, the nearby City of Calgary convened its own  Symposium  as part of the process to develop its Resilience Plan, to be presented to Council in Spring 2018.  The website provides overview information and links to documentation, including nine research briefs in a series, Building a Climate-Resilient City: Climate Change Adaptation in Calgary and Edmonton  from the Prairie Climate Resilience Centre, a project of the University of Winnipeg and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

English_Bay,_Vancouver,_BCVancouver:  The Renewable Cities program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver recently released two reports from a collaborative project called “Mapping Enabling Policies for Vancouver’s 100% Renewable Energy Strategy”. The Policy Atlas is a brief, graphic guide ; The Dialogue Report summarizes the views and discussion of 19 participants at a workshop held on November 30, 2017 – and attempts to clarify the roles of the federal, provincial, and local governments around issues such as a zero emission vehicles, energy efficiency in housing, land use planning, and electricfication and distributed energy, among others.

Toronto largeToronto: In February, Toronto City Council approved $2.5 million for its Transform TO climate plan  – which is  a fraction of the $6.7 million in the budget recommended by city staff.  The Transform TO  goals include 80 per cent GHG reduction by 2050 (based on 1990 baseline); the website provides documentation and updates.

Finally, the mainstream Globe and Mail newspaper promises a new series of articles focusing on Canadian cities and climate change.  The first installment: “Halifax’s battle of the rising sea: Will the city be ready for future floods and storms?” (March 5).