Hazard Zone: The Impact of Climate Change on Occupational Health
Increased Heat Exposure and Decreased Air Quality
- Ground-level ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter air pollution, raising the risk of cardiopulmonary dysfunction, diminished lung function and respiratory illness. Chronic exposure (through inhalation or irritation of the nose, eyes, and throat) to elevated concentrations of ozone has been associated with permanent lung damage and increased risk of mortality from diseases such as pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Ozone exposure among outdoor workers may also be associated with reduced productivity, as it “can increase the frequency of asthma attacks, cause shortness of breath, aggravate lung diseases, and cause permanent damage to lungs through long-term exposure.” Further, a 2011 study found that worker productivity increased when ozone concentrations decreased.
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the air, which can promote the growth of plants that release airborne allergens. Higher pollen concentration and longer pollen seasons can increase allergies and asthma episodes. Short-term symptoms associated with allergens include coughing, wheezing, throat irritation, eye irritation, difficulty breathing and asthma attacks — any of which can limit worker productivity.
Chemical Combustion and Climate Change
An Increase in Pathogens and Infectious Diseases
Protecting Workers from Climate Change
- Putting formal monitoring systems in place to limit worker exposures by altering workday schedules and/or increasing frequency and length of breaks.
- Enhancing personal protective gear, as needed, and finding alternative for heat-inducing protective body gear.
- Tracking changes in occupational exposures and patterns of injury and illness as they pertain to climate change.
- Reinforcing protective practices with small, sensor-based technology that can pre-warn workers about exposures.
- Training workers to identify climate-related exposures that can cause hazards.