New ILO report estimates productivity effects of working at over 35 degrees C.

ILO warmer planet coverReleased on July 1 by the International Labour Organiztion (ILO),  Working on a warmer planet: The impact of heat stress on labour productivity and decent work  presents estimates of the current and projected productivity losses at national, regional and global levels, and recommends policy and workplace actions.  The report  defines heat stress as “heat in excess of what the body can tolerate without suffering physiological impairment.” Roughly, it occurs at temperatures above 35°C, in high humidity. A growing body of research  show that it restricts workers’ physical capabilities and work capacity and thus, productivity, and can lead to  potentially fatal heatstroke.

The report projects that the equivalent of more than 2 per cent of total working hours worldwide will be lost every year by 2030. Agriculture and construction are the two sectors which will be worst affected , especially in south Asia, where job losses due to heat are projected to be 43 million jobs by 2030, and western Africa, where 9 million jobs are predicted to be lost. Other sectors especially at risk are environmental goods and services, refuse collection, emergency, repair work, transport, tourism, sports and some forms of industrial work. And as with so other climate change impacts, low-income countries are expected to suffer the worst, and people in the poorest regions will suffer the most.

Solutions:  From the report introduction: “Solutions do exist. In particular, the structural transformation of rural economies should be speeded up so that fewer agricultural workers are exposed to high temperatures and so that less physical effort has to be expended in such conditions. Other important policy measures that can help are skills development, the promotion of an enabling environment for sustainable enterprises, public investment in infrastructure, and improved integration of developing countries into global trade. At the workplace level, enhanced information about on-site weather conditions, the adaptation of workwear and equipment, and technological improvements can make it easier for workers and their employers to cope with higher temperatures. Employers and workers should discuss together how to adjust working hours, in addition to adopting other occupational safety and health measures. Accordingly, social dialogue is a relevant tool for improving working conditions on a warming planet.”

The report chapters include a global overview, as well as chapters for Africa, The Americas (composed of 4 sub-regions: North America, Central America, South America, and  The Caribbean) , Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe and Central Asia. The Americas discussion reiterates our favoured situation, with  low levels of heat stress and relatively high labour standards, although the patterns remain consistent:   “Whereas the impact of heat stress on labour productivity in Canada is practically zero, the United States lost 0.11 per cent of total working hours as a result of heat stress in 1995 and is projected to lose 0.21 per cent in 2030. The expected productivity loss in 2030 is equivalent to 389,000 full-time jobs. This effect is concentrated in the southern states of the country and concerns mostly outdoor workers, such as construction workers and farm workers in California.”

Outdoor workers and cancer:   Working on a warmer planet includes a highlight section regarding North American farm workers which cites the “Sun Safety at Work Canada” programme , which began in 2016 and is funded  by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.  In 2014, as many as 7,000 skin cancers in Canada were attributed to work-related sun exposure, and outdoor workers have a 2.5-3.5 times greater risk of developing skin cancer than indoor workers.  The Sun Safety at Work program focuses on skin cancer but also includes information about  heat stress and eye damage in its Resource Library  Downloadable publications for employers and individuals include fact sheets, videos and presentations .

Other recent, relevant reading: 

“Changes in Temperature and Precipitation Across Canada” : Chapter 4  in the federal government’s Canada’s Changing Climate Report, released in 2019. It assesses observed and projected changes for Canada.

The Urban Heat Island Effect at the Climate Atlas of Canada website discusses the issue and provides links to some of the adaptive municipal programs.

Healthy Climate, Healthy New Brunswickers: A proposal for New Brunswick that cuts pollution and protects health, by Louise Comeau and Daniel Nunes, released by The Conservation Council of New Brunswick on June 25. It predicts that  average temperatures in the 16 communities studied could rise 1.9 to 2.1 degrees Celsius between 2021 and 2050, and the number of days over 30 degrees are modelled to increase in the range of 122 to 300 per cent .

Life and Death under the Dome” (May 23) in the Toronto Star  , documents the summer of 2018 when at least  66  deaths in Montreal were attributed to heat.

Climate Change and Health: It’s Time for Nurses to Act   published by the the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions includes heat stress in its overview of health-related dangers of climate change in Canada, and highlights the heat waves in Ontario and Quebec in 2018.

Internationally: 

The Imperative of Climate Action to protect human health in Europe” released on June 3  by the European Academies Science Advisory Council  is mostly focused on the general population, but does include discussion of heat stress and of its effects on productivity.

Can the Paris Climate Goals Save Lives? Yes, a Lot of Them, Researchers Say” in the New York Times (June 5) summarizes an article from the journal Sciences Advances (June 5) .  “Increasing mitigation ambition to meet the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal avoids substantial heat-related mortality in U.S. cities”  reviews the literature about heat-related mortality and concludes that achieving the 1.5°C threshold of the Paris Agreement  could avoid between 110 and 2720 annual heat-related deaths in 15 U.S. cities.

 

Climate change and health: more evidence of the dangers of extreme heat for workers

european health reportThe Imperative of Climate Action to Protect Human health in Europe was released on June 3  by the European Academies Science Advisory Council, urging that adaptation and mitigation policies give  health effects a greater emphasis, as well as proposing priorities for health policy research and data coordination in the EU.   The report also acts as a comprehensive literature review of the research on the present and future health impacts of climate change in EU countries.  It documents studies of direct and indirect health effects of extreme heat, forest fires, flooding, pollution, and impacts on food and nutrition.  Some of these impacts include communicable infectious diseases, mental illness, injuries, labour productivity, violence and conflict, and migration. It identifies the most vulnerable groups as the elderly, the sick, children, and migrating and marginalized populations, with city dwellers at greater risk of heat stress than rural populations.

construction drinking waterHeat as a Health risk for workers:  Although the report doesn’t highlight outdoor workers such as farmers and construction workers as a high risk group, it does weigh in on heat effects on labour productivity for indoor and outdoor workers.   For example,  “Even small increases in temperature may reduce cognitive and physical performance and hence impair labour productivity and earning power, with further consequences for health. Earlier analyses had concentrated on the effects of heat on rural labour capacity, but now it is appreciated that many occupations may be affected. For example, recent analysis by the French Agency for Food, Environmental, Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES 2018) concludes that productivity and health of workers in most business sectors will be affected in European countries by 2050. The effects of indoor high temperatures in terms of altered circadian rhythms were recently reported (Zheng et al. 2019) as part of a broader discussion of the literature on indoor high temperatures and human work efficiency. For temperature rises greater than 2°C, labour productivity could drop by 10–15% in some southern European countries (Ciscar et al. 2018). Meta-analysis of the global literature confirms that occupational heat strain has important health and productivity outcomes.”Canada Post Strike 20160705

Also: “with 1.5°C global temperature change, about 350 million people worldwide would be exposed to extreme heat stress sufficient to reduce greatly the ability to undertake physical labour for at least the hottest month in the year; this increases to about one billion people with 2.5°C global temperature change .”

And also: Hot and humid indoor environments may result in “mould and higher concentrations of chemical substances. Health risks include respiratory diseases such as allergy, asthma and rhinitis as well as more unspecific symptoms such as eye and respiratory irritation. Asthma and respiratory symptoms have been reported to be 30–50% more common in humid houses.”

Calls to improve heat standards for U.S. workers : A report in 2018,  Extreme Heat and Unprotected Workers , stated that  heat killed 783 workers in the U.S. and seriously injured nearly 70,000 between 1992 and 2017. The report was published by  Public Citizen, a coalition of social justice groups and labour unions. They continue to  campaign  for a dedicated federal standard regarding heat exposure – most recently with a  letter to the U.S. Department of Labor on April 26, 2019 which states: we “call on you to take swift action to protect workers from the growing dangers of climate change and rising temperatures in the workplace. …. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has an obligation to prevent future heat-related injuries, illnesses and fatalities by issuing a heat stress standard for outdoor and indoor workers.”  The campaign is described in   “Worker advocates burned up over lack of federal heat protections” in FairWarning (May 9), with examples of some U.S. fatalities.  Notably, the death of a  63-year-old postal worker in her mail truck in Los Angeles in July 2018  resulted in  H.R. 1299,  the Peggy Frank Memorial Act, which was introduced in the House of Representatives in February 2019 and would require any Postal Service delivery vehicle to include air conditioning within three years. (It has languished in the House Standing Committee on Oversight and Reform since.)

The article also reports that in April,  California released a draft standard: Heat Illness Prevention in Indoor Places of Employment  which, if approved, would make California the first U.S. jurisdiction to cover both indoor and outdoor job sites. The proposed standard would require water and rest breaks for workers when indoor temperatures reach 82 F degrees, with additional requirements when temperatures hit 87 F. It is noteworthy that this is a slow process – even in progressive California, which has had heat protection for farm workers on the books since 2006,  the Advisory Committee leading this initiative has been meeting since 2017, and the draft standard still under consideration has been revised numerous times .

Lancet Report details health impacts of climate change with new estimates re heat impacts on labour

The latest landmark Report of the Lancet Countdown  was released at the end of November 2018, updating the global research on the health impacts of climate change.    The title of the press release reveals the focus : Extreme heat damaging our health and livelihoods and threatening to overwhelm hospitals around the world  . Using new methodology, the report estimates work hours lost to extreme heat: “153 billion hours of work were lost in 2017 due to extreme heat as a result of climate change. China alone lost 21 billion hours, the equivalent of a year’s work for 1.4% of their working population. India lost 75 billion hours, equivalent to 7% of their total working population.” lancet 2018 map heat and labour

Although the 2018 report emphasizes the increasing threats related to heat, it  measures 41 indicators related to disease, air pollution, extreme weather, and addresses economic and social impacts – including food security and climate migration.  Regarding energy, it states “ In 2017, renewable energy provided 10.3 million jobs – a 5.7% increase from 2016. But fossil fuel extraction industries increased to 11 million – an 8% increase from 2016.” The report estimates  deaths from air pollution by source attribution, with coal estimated to account for 16%  of deaths globally.  It also includes a new indicator mapping extremes of precipitation, identifying South America and southeast Asia among the regions most exposed to flood and drought and, on food security, the report points to 30 countries experiencing downward trends in crop yields, reversing a decade-long trend.

In addition to the main global report, national Briefings for Policymakers are provided for the Brazil, China, the EU, India, the Netherlands, Spain, U.K. and the U.S., as well as Canada. An excellent summary of the main report and the Canadian sub-report appears from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

The Briefing for Canadian Policymakers  is written in collaboration with the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Public Health Association. It provides a Canada-specific view of  health impacts, and makes recommendations: for example, “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 ;…  increase ambition in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in Canada and twin this with an emphasis on Just Transition Policies to support an equitable transition for people who work in the fossil fuel industry as the energy economy transforms;…. Apply carbon pricing instruments as soon and as broadly as possible, enhancing ambition gradually in a predictable manner, and integrate study of resulting air pollution-related health and healthcare impacts into ongoing policy decisions.” The report provides Canadian context for  the under-appreciated topic of  “Climate Change, Mental Health and Ecological Grief”, with examples from the Arctic and sub-Arctice: Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, and a study of  the SOS Summer-of-Smoke , when the area around  Yellowknife experienced  prolonged smoke and fire exposure in 2014.

Finally, the global Countdown report warns  that “A lack of progress in reducing emissions and building adaptive capacity threatens both human lives and the viability of the national health systems they depend on, with the potential to disrupt core public health infrastructure and overwhelm health services.”  It points to the growth of health-related advocacy groups , the divestment from fossil fuels, (including by the Canadian Medical Association), and the need for climate change-related training for health professionals.    The Canadian report also addresses this need for training for health professionals, stating:  “A well-trained workforce is required to respond to these challenges. The Canadian Public Health Association’s Ecological Determinants Group on Education has been working to integrate an ecosocial approach into public health education, including facilitating the participation of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students in an International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations initiative which seeks to see climate change and health gain a foothold in curricula by 2020 with fuller integration by 2025.”

The Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change is a global, interdisciplinary report funded by the Wellcome Trust, and researched through the collaboration of  27 academic institutions and inter-governmental organizations. The full report is here  (registration required).

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.

Increasing frequency and intensity of heat stress bring dangers to outside workers and will trigger migration

The 40-plus temperatures and melting asphalt of Australia’s latest heat wave  seem hard to understand for North Americans shivering under a polar vortex, but both temperature extremes relate to climate change, and both can be deadly for vulnerable groups, including outdoor workers.  On December 22, a new scientific paper was published in Environmental Research Letters and summarized in layman’s terms by Climate News Network as  “Humidity is the  real heat wave threat”  (December 24).   In “Temperature and humidity based projections of a rapid rise in global heat stress exposure during the 21st century”  in Environmental Research Letters,   scientists at Columbia University’s  Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory used numerous models to project  frequency of high wet-bulb readings, (a scale which combines heat and humidity). The authors project that in the south-east U.S., where current wet-bulb temperatures now reach 29 or 30°C only occasionally, such highs could occur 25 to 40 days per year by the 2070’s or 2080’s,  and wet-bulb temperatures of 35°C  could occur on one or two days a year.  (35°C on a wet-bulb scale is considered the limit of human survivability.)

The situation would be worse in parts of South America,  China, and especially in Northeast India and coastal West Africa, where there is little cooling infrastructure, relatively low adaptive capacity, and rapidly growing populations. The authors conclude that “ heat stress may prove to be one of the most widely experienced and directly dangerous aspects of climate change, posing a severe threat to human health, energy infrastructure, and outdoor activities ranging from agricultural production to military training.” One might add, to any outdoor worker, including those in agriculture, construction , delivery, and emergency responders.

Similar warnings were published for farmers in Asia in “Deadly heat waves projected in the densely populated agricultural regions of South Asia” in Science Advances (August 2, 2017),  summarized by Inside Climate News.    Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles concluded  “The most intense hazard from extreme future heat waves is concentrated around densely populated agricultural regions of the Ganges and Indus river basins.”

But a recent article from Climate News Network  shows that we’re all in this together.  ” Warming drives climate refugees to Europe”  (Dec. 22) summarizes a study which combined EU asylum-application data with projections of future warming, and concludes that even under optimistic scenarios, asylum applications to the EU would increase by 28% by 2100 . The article concludes “Though poorer countries in hotter regions are most vulnerable to climate change, our findings highlight the extent to which countries are interlinked, and Europe will see increasing numbers of desperate people fleeing their home countries.”