Working in high temperatures: How climate change affects the world of work

Temperature rise is one climate change's most dangerous consequences and it poses considerable risks to the health of workers
Wind energy on Global Wind Day

The temperature in Antarctica is reaching alarming new heights this summer. According to a recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the South Pole is warming at a rate that is three times faster than the global average. However, the worrying rise in temperature is not isolated to that region — the same thing is happening all over the world. For example, the average temperature in Chile in 2016 was more than half a degree higher than the 1981-2010 average. Meanwhile in Mexico, the last five years have seen a sharp rise in temperatures. The two hottest years of the last seven decades have occurred within this five-year period.

Another example can be found in Australia; the country is currently experiencing temperatures that match experts' worst-case scenario predictions for 2050. Data from the Bureau of Meteorology shows that 2019 was the country's warmest year on record, with the mean temperature 1.52 degrees above average.

Climate change news abounds, reminding us that it is a reality that can no longer be averted; we have to take urgent action to adapt and mitigate its effects. This means that government plans and agreements such as the Green Recovery will be essential. Industries of all types will also have to play their part — implementing initiatives that allow them to adapt to the consequences of global warming.

One such industry is construction. Experts in this field agree that the consequences of extreme temperatures will account for 56 % of the total economic cost of climate change from now until 2030, a truly major economic and health issue. But what can we do to soften the blow?


Protect workers from rising temperatures

In the same way that workers in Norway are not exposed to the same temperatures as workers in Qatar, working in the midday sun is not the same as working at dawn. Exposure to high temperatures while doing physical work can be very dangerous for your health.

The Heat-Shield initiative was launched in an effort to prevent this risk. It is a technological project that aims to measure and control heat stress in construction employees. The project involves vests that help to protect workers' health by using wireless sensors that pick up body temperature and trigger an alarm when a certain temperature is exceeded.

This new technology could become indispensable in the future for improving the safety conditions of workers. For jobs that require physical effort, high temperatures are one of the biggest threats to workers' health and well-being.

Such initiatives could help to tailor working hours according to the region in which the work is being done, since heat will be a growing concern, especially in the areas most affected by climate change and in locations with a strong infrastructure sector, such as the Arab world, where the already extreme weather conditions will worsen as global warming intensifies.


Anticipating the effects of climate change

This project, in which ACCIONA is collaborating with 19 institutions, addresses the impact of rising temperatures on certain workplace scenarios due to the effects of climate change. Analysing this data is the first step in providing the main industries in the European Union—including construction and transport—with adaptation strategies.

One of the Heat-Shield initiative milestones to be surpassed is assessing the current health risks posed by heat in the workplace, as well as the problems that are expected to arise in certain jobs due to climate change.

The initiative also aims to develop solutions that counteract these risks and an online open-access service that anticipates and provides warnings about events that may pose a threat to workers' health. There will also be an assessment of the economic, social and health effects and how these effects will impact the reduction of health and social inequalities.

In short, the project seeks solutions to the problems that we will inevitably have to face. If we have not been able to prevent climate change, we must at the very least be able to adapt to the consequences that we will have to face.

Source: IPCC, The Guardian,