World's workers increasingly at risk as climate changes, ILO says

Regulations lag pace of climate change. Air pollution kills 860,000 people each year

By Reuters

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A 50 metre anamorphic field painting of a girl holding the Earth, created by artists from 'Sand In Your Eye' to mark Earth Day, adorns a hillside above Hebden Bridge, north west England on April 19, 2024.  The painting was made over three days using shades of line marker paint used on football pitches. The artwork, bearing the message 'Vote for Climate, Vote for Our Future', was created to coincide with Earth Day 2024 and aims to encourage people to consider the climate when voting in the UK's forthcoming elections. — AFP
A 50 metre anamorphic field painting of a girl holding the Earth, created by artists from 'Sand In Your Eye' to mark Earth Day, adorns a hillside above Hebden Bridge, north west England on April 19, 2024. The painting was made over three days using shades of line marker paint used on football pitches. The artwork, bearing the message 'Vote for Climate, Vote for Our Future', was created to coincide with Earth Day 2024 and aims to encourage people to consider the climate when voting in the UK's forthcoming elections. — AFP

Published: Mon 22 Apr 2024, 1:38 PM

More than 70% of the global workforce is exposed to risks linked to climate change that cause hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, the International Labour Organization said on Monday, adding governments would need to act as the numbers rise.

Workers, especially the world's poorest, are more vulnerable than the general population to the dangers of climate extremes such as heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and hurricanes because they are often the first exposed or exposed for longer periods and at greater intensity.


As climate change accelerates, governments and employers are struggling to protect employees, the report said.

"A staggering number of workers are already being exposed to climate change-related hazards in the workplace, and these figures are only likely to get worse," the report entitled "Ensuring safety and health at work in a changing climate" said in its conclusions.


A photograph taken on early April 22, 2024 in Fully, western Switzerland shows burning candles placed in a vineyard to keep the plants warm, part of the fight against the frost destroying the newly emerging buds. — AFP
A photograph taken on early April 22, 2024 in Fully, western Switzerland shows burning candles placed in a vineyard to keep the plants warm, part of the fight against the frost destroying the newly emerging buds. — AFP

"As (the hazards) evolve and intensify, it will be necessary to re-evaluate existing legislation or create new regulations and guidance."

Some countries have improved heat protections for workers, such as Qatar, whose policies came under scrutiny ahead of the 2022 soccer World Cup.

The share of global workers exposed to the most widespread hazard, surging temperatures, has risen by around 5 percentage points over the last two decades to 70.9%, the report said,

Other climate dangers often co-exist, creating a "cocktail of hazards," the ILO report said, with UV radiation and air pollution each affecting 1.6 billion people.

Because a worker is likely to be exposed to multiple dangers at once, an ILO spokesperson said it was impossible to calculate exactly what portion of the 3.4 billion global workforce was at risk.

Climate-related hazards are being linked to a cancer, kidney dysfunction and respiratory illnesses, leading to deaths or debilitating chronic conditions or disabilities.

Air pollution is the most deadly risk, causing some 860,000 work-related deaths among outdoor workers annually, the ILO report said. Excessive heat causes 18,970 occupational deaths each year and UV radiation kills 18,960 through non melanoma skin cancer, it said.

"The greatest impacts will be felt by the working poor, those working in the informal economy, seasonal workers and workers in micro and small enterprises," the report said.


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