Several indoor and outdoor populations may be particularly vulnerable to climate change. Examples include emergency responders, medical workers, firefighters, utility workers, farmers, manufacturing workers, and transportation workers. Climate conditions can exacerbate existing health and safety issues and lead to new unforeseen hazards. Workers may also be exposed to weather and climate conditions that the general public may choose to avoid. For work groups, such as migrant workers and day laborers, who may have inadequate housing or other social and economic constraints, adverse health effects from exposure to climate-related hazards in the workplace may be exacerbated by exposure to similar dangers at home.
Climate-related occupational risks include high temperatures, air pollution, extreme weather, natural disasters, and biological hazards.
Occupational exposure to heat and hot environments
Workers exposed to extreme heat, performing prolonged work in hot environments, or being involved in strenuous physical activities may be at risk of heat stress. Heat stress can lead to heat stroke, exhaustion, rhabdomyolysis (the destruction of muscle tissue), and death. Occupational exposure to heat is also associated with an increased risk of injury.
Air pollution is associated with both acute and chronic health effects, such as heart disease, respiratory disease, and allergic disorders. Air pollutants known to affect respiratory health include ground-level ozone and particulate pollution. Numerous factors, including workplace location and weather, can affect workplace air pollution exposure.
Extreme weather events or natural disasters such as floods, landslides, hurricanes, lightning, droughts, and wildfires are associated with occupational deaths, injuries, illnesses, and mental stress. Workers involved in rescue, cleanup, and recovery are exposed to hazardous conditions during and after extreme weather events.
Climate conditions such as temperature and rainfall affect the prevalence and distribution of vectors, pathogens, hosts, and allergens. Associated health impacts include food and waterborne diseases; asthma and allergies provoked by pollen; mold-related asthma; irritation of the skin and lungs by poisonous plants; and vector-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and dengue fever. The most vulnerable occupational groups may include outdoor workers, emergency responders, construction and disaster recovery workers, and healthcare workers. In addition to the direct health effects of biohazards, pesticide exposure is associated with various adverse health effects in the workplace.
High temperatures increase the need for climate-controlled buildings. Building-related illnesses (e.g., cramped building syndrome or sick building syndrome) may occur, sometimes related to indoor air quality, especially in buildings with air conditioning, water damage, or energy-efficient "sealed" buildings with germ-contaminated humidifiers or air conditioners using biocides. Cramped buildings can also accumulate radon in work areas such as small spaces, warehouses, or offices.
In response to concerns about our climate and environment, there has been an increase in the use of energy-efficient and environmentally friendly practices. For example, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimated 769,000 renewable energy jobs in the United States in 2015, which has probably increased over the years since these data were collected. It is essential to identify and address worker safety and health issues in these emerging industries.