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Monday June 03, 2024
Geneva, Switzerland

A โ€œstaggeringโ€ number of workers are exposed to a toxic cocktail of health risks linked to climate change, and they are not sufficiently protected by existing regulations, warns the UN.

Climate change caused by human activities is already having a heavy impact on the health and safety of workers around the world, who are often the first to suffer the most harmful consequences, warns the International Labour Organization (ILO) in a report entitled โ€œEnsuring occupational safety and health in the era of climate changeโ€.

โ€œA staggering number of workers are already exposed to climate change-related risks in the workplace, and these figures are only likely to get worse,โ€ the ILO points out.

Excessive heat is the most immediately perceptible threat. According to the ILO, almost 71% of the global workforce, or 2.4 billion workers, are likely to be exposed to excessive heat at some point during their work, explains the organization, based on data from 2020. Twenty years earlier, the proportion was 65.5%.

– Hard work, hot climates –

In addition to excessive heat, agricultural workers, road workers, construction workers and others who carry out arduous work in hot climates in particular can be exposed to a cocktail of hazards, says the report: UV rays, air pollution, vector-borne diseases (such as malaria or dengue fever, whose geographical range is influenced by warming) and agrochemicals.

People working in hot indoor environments or poorly ventilated enclosed spaces are also at considerable risk.

โ€œWorkers are among the most exposed to the risks associated with climate change, yet they often have no choice but to continue working, even if conditions are dangerous,โ€ says the report.

โ€œThis is a huge problem,โ€ added Manal Azzi, head of the ILO’s Occupational Safety and Health team, warning that โ€œworkers are often forgotten when we talk about climate change, and the health impacts are very seriousโ€.

Nearly 23 million work-related accidents attributed to excessive heat are reported every year, costing around 19,000 lives a year, according to the ILO.

The report โ€œnotes that many health problems among workers have been linked to climate change, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, kidney dysfunction and mental health problemsโ€.

For example, the ILO estimates that 1.6 billion workers worldwide are exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays every year, with over 18,960 work-related deaths annually from non-melanoma skin cancer.

The same number of people are exposed to pollution in the workplace, resulting in up to 860,000 deaths each year among those working outdoors.

In addition, over 870 million agricultural workers are likely to be exposed to pesticides, and over 300,000 deaths are attributed to pesticide poisoning every year.

– Adapting legislation –

โ€œIt’s clear that climate change is already creating significant additional health risks for workers,โ€ said Azzi.

โ€œIt is essential that we heed these warnings. Occupational health and safety considerations must be an integral part of our responses to climate change, whether in policy or action,โ€ she insists.

โ€œWorking in a safe and healthy environment is recognized as one of the ILO’s fundamental principles and rights at work. We must respect this commitment in the context of climate change, as in all other aspects of work”, explains Ms. Azzi.

The ILO believes that the evolution and intensification of risks linked to climate change could force countries to reassess existing legislation or create new regulations and guidelines to ensure that workers are properly protected.

Humaniterre with AFP

 

 

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