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The impact of climate change on employees in 4…
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The impact of climate change on employees in 4 numbers

Climate change is a pressing global issue that affects many aspects of our daily lives, including our work environments. In the workplace, climate change creates new risks for occupational health and safety: physical health risks, mental health challenges, changes in work patterns and productivity. In order to mitigate the negative effects of climate change and build a more resilient and sustainable future, employers and employees must understand and address the impact of climate change on the workforce.
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by Kirsten Vanderplanken, PhD | April 28, 2023
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21-25°C – temperature range that is considered comfortable for work

The temperature range that is considered most comfortable for work is 21°C-25°C. People working in conditions outside this range, may experience adverse impacts on their productivity, physical health, mental health and wellbeing. Outdoor workers, for instance in agriculture and construction, are more vulnerable to experience these risks, as they are more exposed to high temperatures with limited access to shade and water, and they engage more often in physically intensive work[1]. In addition, other workers who are at an increased risk include male workers, workers younger than 25 years and between 40-65 years, and workers wearing heavy protective clothing[1]. 30% - of workers experience productivity losses due to heat.

30% of employees working under heat stress conditions experience productivity losses

The average productivity decline is estimated at 2,6% for ever degree above 24°C WGBT (an index that includes temperature and humidity)[2]. Loss of productivity can be assessed in terms of lost working hours (e.g. due to an increase in breaks or shorter work days), decreased production output (e.g. due to a decrease in performance or work capacity) or reduced quality of products and services (e.g. due to an increase in mistakes)1.

2,4% - of occupational injuries can be attributed to heat

Exposure to heat and hot weather can trigger occupational injuries, varying in severity and type. Examples include superficial injuries, bone fractures, burns and heart attacks. A study in Spain finds that 2,4% of occupational injuries can be attributed to heat[3]. The increase in risk for occupational injuries starts to elevate even above 21°C, which is usually considered to be a comfortable temperature that does not warrant preventive actions. In the construction sector specifically, every 1°C increase in humidex (an index that reflects the experienced temperature by combining air temperature and humidity measures) increases the odds of traumatic injuries in workers with 0,5%[4].

15% - of workers frequently working under heat stress experience kidney diseases

The risk of heat strain (physiological effects of working under heat) is 4 times as high when working under heat stress conditions (22-24°C WGBT) compared to working in a comfortable temperature range. For those workers who are frequently working in heat stress conditions (2 months/year for at least 6h/day), the risk of kidney disease and acute kidney injuries increases with 15% (compared to 2% of the general population in high-income countries). These diseases are linked to chronic dehydration. The economic and social impacts are severe, as even one episode of kidney injury can lead to chronic kidney disease and can prevent the affected individual from continuing their usual job.


[1] Narocki (2021) Heatwaves as an occupational hazard. The impact of heat and heatwaves on workers' health, safety and wellbeing and on social inequalities. Brussels: ETUI aisbl

[2] Flouris et al. (2018) Workers’ health and productivity under occupational heat strain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Planet Health. Vol. 2

[3] Martínez-Solanas et al. (2018) Evaluation of the impact of ambient temperatures on occupational injuries in Spain. Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 126:6

[4] Spector et al. (2019) Heat Exposure and Occupational Injuries: Review of the Literature and Implications. Current Environmental Health Reports, Vol. 6:4

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