Climate Change is Turning Up the Heat on the Job

The following post is from the BlueGreen Alliance’s Executive Director Kim Glas.

Today is Workers’ Memorial Day. It’s a day that both honors workers who have lost their lives or been severely injured on the job and also encourages people to continue to fight on to make workplaces safer and healthier. It’s a sad fact that every year, millions of workers in our nation are killed or injured during the course of doing their jobs.

That’s why it’s only fitting that today a new report from the United Nations Development Programme called Climate Change and Labour: Impacts of Heat in the Workplace was released. The report highlighted a growing danger to workers: climate change.

Many American workers, and countless people around the world, are in danger from heat in the workplace. Climate change is turning up the temperatures and creating real problems in our workplaces, and in the future it’s only going to get worse if we don’t take action to address it and its impacts.

The impacts of heat on workers can’t be overstated. Anyone who has ever had to work in a warehouse, factory, boiling hot vehicle without air conditioning, outside under the glaring sun, or other places where respite from high temperatures is hard to find can attest to the hazard heat poses.

The workers most impacted by this are those doing manual labor, construction, or working in the agriculture or manufacturing sectors. And, that’s a lot of people. In the U.S. alone, there are 12.3 million workers in the manufacturing sector, over 16 million jobs in farm and agriculture-related industries, and 6.6 million working in the construction industry. That’s millions of people who struggle every summer now but whose struggles will only get worse if action isn’t taken.

The report also examines the effect of heat to worker productivity, which will also hurt people trying to provide a good living for their families. The report said, “A worker’s natural protection is to slow down work or limit working hours, which reduces productivity, economic output, pay and family income.”

The fight for safer workplaces is far from over.

In the short term, we need to do what we can to help stave off the worst effects of heat on workers. They’re common sense, but often overlooked, things like more access to drinking water in workplaces and more frequent rest breaks.

But, in the long term, we need to take action on climate change. While the Paris Agreement, signed by over 170 countries last week, is a good start, here in America there’s more we can do to reduce the carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases. We can tackle this serious issue by growing more clean, renewable energy; making our buildings — from hospitals, schools, and large multi-family units, to our own homes and businesses — more energy efficient; and reducing methane emissions — a greenhouse gas much more potent than carbon dioxide on a pound-for-pound basis — from our oil and gas industry by using cheap, off-the-shelf technology. The good news is that all of those solutions will both protect our families — in the workplace and at home — and also create and sustain more quality jobs for American workers.

The fight for safer workplaces is far from over. Workplace hazards, such as toxic chemicals, poor safety equipment, and employers cutting corners and breaking the law to pad the bottom line at the expense of the safety of their employees are all real problems. Climate change is also — and it is serious. The first step to fixing something is to admit that it’s a problem; the next step is to do something about it.

We can all work together to make sure that happens.

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