As the Earth grapples with the highest recorded temperatures in history, labor sectors ranging from agriculture to manufacturing, and services to construction are feeling the heat. The impact is twofold, endangering workers’ health and safety while also significantly hampering productivity.
Increased Heat, Decreased Productivity
According to a study published in June, extreme heat not only harms agricultural practices but also strikes industrial and other sectors. In essence, these types of work are more physically demanding. The study showed that as it gets hotter, people skip more days of work and cut their working time. These issues will become bigger as the Earth continues to heat up.
Last year, due to very hot weather, American workers skipped over 2.5 billion hours of work, costing the economy about $100 billion. Estimates say that these losses may jump to an annual $500 billion by 2050. When it gets hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the work rate decreases and falls up to 25 percent, and even further – only 30 percent – if it exceeds 100 degrees. Now, the effects diversify geographically – in less affluent regions, workers may face a salary loss of up to 5 percent per sweltering day. On the other hand, in more prosperous areas, the loss isn’t as significant, being less than 1 percent.
Adverse Effects on Multiple Sectors
Effects of High Temperatures on Different Industries The impacts of high-temperature levels are more frequently seen in various business areas. Agriculture is the industry that suffers the most, making up 60% of global productivity loss. However, jobs that need physical effort, like construction and delivery services, are also affected greatly. These jobs often require workers to stay outside or wear safety gear.
The recent wave of extreme heat led Amazon drivers and warehouse employees in the U.S. to strike, protesting over working conditions reaching over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The severe weather also affects workers in utility services, airlines and telecommunication companies, restaurants, and home healthcare providers which leads to a drop in their productivity and slows down operations.
Urgent Need for Regulatory Measures
Right now, there does not exist any country-wide laws in the U.S. to protect workers from very high heat. In 2021, the Biden leadership declared that the Office of Safety and Health at Work would suggest the first-ever law to keep workers safe from exposure to heat, but they haven’t shared the preliminary version yet.
The role of governments worldwide is crucial in implementing effective heat-reducing measures, such as ensuring access to water, adapting working hours, rotating workers, and conducting routine health checks. These adaptation measures must be tailored to each region’s unique circumstances.
Heatwave Mitigation Strategies
Some of the suggested mitigation measures include:
- Increasing the number of breaks.
- Ensuring access to water.
- Adapting working hours to cooler periods of the day.
- Rotating workers to limit exposure.
- Adapting workers’ clothing to facilitate cooling.
- Promoting regular hydration.
- Conducting routine health checks to detect early signs of heat stress.
The Bigger Picture
As the UN’s World Meteorological Organization warns of record-shattering heat waves, we must address the rising heat stress issue urgently. Beyond discomfort, these rising temperatures pose significant challenges to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 8, targeting sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.
The gravity of heat waves extends to threaten workers’ health, safety, and productivity on a global scale. It’s important to act now to keep workers safe and make sure our economy continues to grow. Governments, businesses, and local groups need to work together. They need to take steps that can help protect workers from the harmful effects of very hot weather, for everyone’s sake. This will make the future safer and everyone will be able to work better.
For more information on climate change and its impact on labor productivity, visit the UN Sustainable Development Goals website.