- Documents and publications
Heatwaves as an occupational hazard: The impact of heat and heatwaves on workers’ health, safety and wellbeing and on social inequalities
This paper explores the argument that weather-related heat stress should be considered an escalating occupational hazard that deserves full societal recognition in order to be considered as an emerging occupational risk requiring public action. Heat health is one of the main lines of action concerning climate change adaptation with strong evidence showing that protective interventions can radically reduce the impact of heat on mortality. As this fact is being recognised, urban authorities are being urged to change the surfaces of cities, the cladding of public and private buildings and the allocation of space to greener means of transportation and these lines of action are gaining support and resources.
This paper argues that the preventive occupational risk management of heat events should be a requirement for any occupational situation in which heat stress factors have previously been present or which can appear in the context of weather-related heat events. The preparation of a preventive and protective response by employers is crucial for occupational health and safety (OHS). Preventive action should be organised in advance even if the expected level of risk seems low or affecting no more than workers ‘comfort’. Moreover, thermal discomfort should not be regarded as a minor OHS issue. The conditions in which heat stress factors do not reach such a level as would immediately jeopardise human health must still be addressed at work as they can impair wellbeing, performance and productivity while, in some jobs, they may also constitute a safety risk factor. Risk assessments should consider any impact of heat events, not only for office workers.