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Workers do not have needed protection from extreme temperatures

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Posted September 22, 2015

Climate change will inevitably affect all of us. However, raising temperature will affect those who live and work outside the most. But we still did not know what effect will it bring and how it may change our working environment.

Extremely hot temperatures during heat waves cause variety of injuries in workplaces. Because of climate change, such heat waves may occur more frequently, which means that companies should be prepared to adjust working hours and implement other means to prevent such incidents. Image credit: Benchill via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Extremely hot temperatures during heat waves cause variety of injuries in workplaces. Because of climate change, such heat waves may occur more frequently, which means that companies should be prepared to adjust working hours and implement other means to prevent such incidents. Image credit: Benchill via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Now, scientists at the University of Adelaide, Australia, have conducted a study and found that there is an association between hotter temperatures and an increase in claims about injuries in work. Furthermore, it turns out that workplaces are not well prepared for increasing temperature at all.

Scientists say that by 2070 climate change will make temperatures in Australia significantly higher – by that time continent will face about 1-5 degrees of increased temperature. This means that companies will have to pay more attention to the means how to protect their employees against heat-related illnesses and injuries.

Scientists launched a research which linked data from worker compensation claims with temperature records and found that there is direct correlation between hotter temperatures and an increase in injury claims.

Professor Peng Bi, leader of the research team at the University of Adelaide’s School of Public Health, explained: “we looked at the worker compensation claims for those who commonly work outdoors, including construction workers, farmers, emergency services officers and utility employees. What we found was that once the mercury approached 37.7°Celsius, there was a considerable increase in injuries recorded.”

Although it is easy to think that these cases should be all about heat strikes and similar incidents, it was only a part of the cases. There were many falls, poisoning due to chemical exposure, occupational burns and so on. Most of these injuries, occurring on particularly hot days, were largely preventable if workplace was ready for such shock. These heat waves rarely come unexpectedly, which means that heat related injuries in workplaces can and should be prevented.

Scientists also conducted another research, which surveyed Australian occupational health and safety specialists about workplace heat exposure. These specialists are the ones who are supposed to give advices about work safety, including how to deal with heat stress that people face in their jobs. Researchers found that even 90% of these specialists surveyed were concerned about extreme heat and safety of workers.

Scientists surveyed 180 occupational health and safety specialists who provide advice on heat stress management to industries and almost all of them were at least moderately concerned about extreme heat. But what are the solutions? 19% of the surveyed specialists noted that there is a need to improve current heat stress prevention measures in their workplace.

Scientists note that this research just once again shows that there has to be more done in order to protect workers in conditions of extreme heat. They name several measures that could be taken to prevent heal related injuries from costing money for companies and causing health issues for workers.

Such measures could be adjusting work hours, taking more breaks, providing good hydration and offering more flexible work arrangements for the workers. Scientists also say that most of the companies who have exposed workplaces do have policies related to extreme temperatures, but nation-wide regulations would solve these problems more effectively.

We’ve been told many times that climate change will affect every single one of us, but it will mostly take its toll on wild animals. However, this research draws attention on people who spend majority of their day outside working, usually fulfilling manual tasks. Inevitably that causes major health concerns and can cause injuries or health problems. With climate changing so rapidly, we are likely to face more of issues like that and we will have to find effective heat stress preventive measures.

Source: University of Adelaide

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