The Lancet measures the impact of climate change on public health, productivity and more

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The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change is a global, interdisciplinary research collaboration which has published an annual review since 2016.   The Lancet Countdown’s 2017 Report  tracks 40 indicators across five areas, and concludes that the human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible. Of particular interest, Indicator 1.3 states that  “global physical labour capacity in populations exposed to temperature change has decreased by around 5.3% between 2000 and 2016.”  Other alarming statistics:  between 2000 and 2016, the number of vulnerable people exposed to heatwave events has increased by around 125 million; without further action against climate change, over 1 billion people may be at risk of become climate change migrants by the end of the century.  The full report is available here (registration required, free).

In addition to the global report,  the Lancet Countdown produces country-specific reports;  the Briefing for Canadian Policy-makers was  written in partnership with the Canadian Public Health Association.  It  makes several  recommendations for Canadian action, including • Phase out coal-powered electricity in Canada by 2030 or sooner, with a minimum of two thirds of the power replaced by non-emitting sources, and any gap made up by lowest-emitting natural gas technology. Track and cost the health benefits of the transition in Canada and globally; • Develop a National Active Transport Strategy for Canada to coordinate improvements to walking, cycling and transit environments. This should receive priority funding, with healthcare cost savings calculated in order to demonstrate the cost offset of the investments. • Enhance support for telecommuting and telehealth options. Within health systems, gather and analyze data on kilometers, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and costs saved by telehealth in order to help drive systems change. • Increase funding for research into the local health impacts of resource extraction, with a focus on impacts on Indigenous populations.• Integrate Health Impact Assessments as a core component of the federal Environmental Assessment process.Lancet_twitter_card_5

Pollution cost Canada $2 billion in Lost Labour Output alone

The June 2017 report, Costs of Pollution in Canada: Measuring the impacts on families, businesses and governments reviews and synthesizes existing studies to produce the most comprehensive assessment of pollution and its costs  in Canada to date. Some quick facts: the cost of climate change-related heat waves in Canada is estimated to have been $1.6 billion in 2015; Smog alone cost Canadians $36 billion in 2015. But the report also provides detailed estimates, organized in three categories: 1.  Direct Welfare Costs: (Harm to health and well-being such as  lower enjoyment of life, sickness and premature death); 2.  Direct Income Costs – (Direct out of pocket expenses for families (e.g. medications for asthma), businesses (e.g. increased maintenance costs for buildings) and governments (remediation of polluted sites); and 3. Wealth impacts.

Direct Welfare Costs of pollution, the most studied and understood,  are estimated as at least $39 billion in 2015, or about $4,300 for a family of four.  The Direct Income Costs   that could be measured amounted to $3.3 billion in 2015, but the study cautions that this many important costs could not be measured, and full impacts on income were likely in the tens of billions of dollars.  In this category, the study estimates  Lost Labour Outputs, using a metric derived from the 2016  OECD study,  The  Economic Consequences of Outdoor Air Pollution.  The OECD estimates outdoor air pollution to cost 0.1% of national GDP, which, when applied to Canada’s  2015 GDP of approximately  $1,986 billion, implies a costs of about $2 billion in lost labour output alone. And finally, Wealth impacts, or costs on value of assets , are said to be the least understood of pollution costs, about which, “We simply do not know how much pollution costs us in terms of lost wealth”.

Costs of Pollution in Canada: Measuring the impacts on families, businesses and governments was prepared by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), with funding from the Ivey Foundation; the full report is available in English- only. Summaries are in English  and French.Short  videos were derived in cooperation with the Conference Board of Canada to focus on key topics:  e.g. extreme weather, contaminated sites, and smog .

Climate change has consequences for mental health in the workplace

Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance  is a report released at the end of March by the American Psychological Association, Climate for Health, and ecoAmerica. The goal is to raise public awareness of the issue and to provide “climate communicators, planners, policymakers, public health professionals, and other leaders the tools and tips needed to respond to these impacts and bolster public engagement on climate solutions.”  Although it doesn’t directly address workplace issues, much of the discussion is relevant.  For example, the report catalogues the acute mental health impacts that result from the horror and disruption of natural disasters or extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina –  depression,  disrupted social relationships, domestic violence, and heightened intergroup aggression.  The report also highlights women as being at higher risk: “because, on average, women have fewer economic resources than men, women may also be more affected, in general, by the stress and trauma of natural disasters.” (p.39).

Extreme weather and disasters focus attention, but there are also chronic impacts resulting from longer- term climate changes – the key example given is a proven increase in violence and inter-personal aggression associated with higher temperatures.   Certain occupational groups are highlighted for their high risk to climate-related anxiety, including first responders to natural disasters, but also including health care-givers, and those directly employed in natural settings – conservation officers, park rangers.

The final section of the report deals with tips to build resilience at the individual and community level.  It urges that training be provided for first responders so that they can identify and deal with appropriate compassion for the victims of natural disasters.

Summer’s heat can be deadly for workers

thermometer and sunWe know all know this summer is hot, but what does it mean for workers? In These Times published an article by Elizabeth Grosman in July, “As Temperatures Climb Across the Country, Workers Will Suffer”. Her article examines the situation in the U.S., reporting that in 2015, “the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) received more than 200 reports of workers hospitalized because of heat-related illness and at least eight deaths associated with heat exposure. In 2014, 2,630 U.S. workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died on the job from heat stroke and related causes. Since 2003, an average of more than 30 workers a year have died of heat-related causes.  The article also point out that 9 of the 30 deaths occurred to workers who had been on the job less than 3 days – making this an issue which might be improved by training and stronger OHS contract language.  In 2014, OSHA launched a “Heat Rest Shade” campaign to remind employers of their obligation to provide respite for workers  , and with online training materials   and information resources  .

The Ontario Ministry of Labour updated their guidance re Heat Stress in 2014, and the Heat Stress Awareness Guide published by the Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario in 2007 is still valuable.  It too points out the risks to new employees and those who are not conditioned to heat.  For  Canada-wide information, see the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Fact Sheets here  or  see (from 2010)  Protecting Workers from Heat Stress: What are an Employer’s Legal Obligations?

Being unemployed is also a factor in heat-releated illness according to an article in Environmental Health Perspectives .   Researchers led by Hung Chak Ho of Simon Fraser University in B.C. developed a block-by-block map of neighbourhoods in Vancouver and discovered that those blocks with a high proportion of low-income earners, a high proportion of renters and a high unemployment rate are at greater risk of mortality than the elderly.  See “Unemployed people, not the elderly, at highest risk”   for a summary.

And amidst the high heat and drought that all of us are feeling in central Canada this summer comes scientific validation of our experience:  the release of State of the Climate 2015  , the 26th edition of the assessment released each summer as a supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.  Canada is profiled in Chapter 7 :  “The annual average temperature in 2015 for Canada was 1.3°C above the 1961–90 average, and was the 11th warmest year since nationwide records began in 1948.” (The warmest year on record for Canada to date has been 2010, at 3.0°C above average.)  Globally, the report catalogues several symbolic mileposts: notably, it was 1.0°C warmer than preindustrial times, and the Mauna Loa observatory recorded its first annual mean carbon dioxide concentration greater than 400 ppm in 2015.  A thorough summary appeared in The Guardian (August 2). ( State of the Climate is compiled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Weather and Climate, from contributions from scientists from 62 countries, and is the recognized authority on global climate indicators and  notable weather events).

Low-wage workers, Women, and Migrant workers will suffer most from Climate change-induced heat

Climate Change and Labour: Impacts of Heat in the Workplace   identifies heavy labour and low-skill agricultural and manufacturing jobs as the most susceptible to heat changes caused by climate change.  India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Cambodia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and part of West Africa are the countries most at risk. Quoting the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report, it states that “labour productivity impacts could result in output reductions in affected sectors exceeding 20% during the second half of the century–the global economic cost of reduced productivity may be more than 2 trillion USD by 2030.” Even if countries meet their Paris emissions reductions targets, rising temperatures may cut up to 10 percent of the daytime working hours in developing countries.

On the human scale, the authors surveyed more than 100 studies in the last decade which document the health risks and labour productivity loss experienced by workers in hot locations- most recently, 2016 studies from India which concluded that 87% of workers experience health problems during the hottest 3 months, and which highlighted additional problems for pregnant women workers and migrant workers.

Several important indirect effects of heat stress include: alteration of work hours to avoid the heat of the day; the need to work longer hours to earn the same pay for those whose productivity falls due to heat stress, or suffer income loss; increased exposure to hazardous chemicals when workplace chemicals evaporate more quickly in higher temperatures; and possible exposure to new vector-borne diseases.  The report calls for protection for workers , including low cost measures such as assured access to drinking water in workplaces, frequent rest breaks, and management of output targets, incorporating  protection of income and other conditions of Decent Work.

At the regulatory level,  the most relevant standard cited was adopted by the ILO in November 2015:  “Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all”,    which includes occupational safety and health and social protection policies which call on social partners “to conduct assessments of increased or new OSH risks resulting from climate change; improve, adapt or develop and create awareness of OSH standards for technologies and work processes related to the transition; and review policies concerning the protection of workers.”

The report was as a joint effort coordinated by the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Secretariat and in partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNI Global Union (UNI), the International Organization of Employers (IOE), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the NGO network ACT Alliance. See The Guardian for a summary .