Effects of climate change in the workplace: increased occupational risks and a need for action to be taken in the world of work
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News of 19/04/2018
Today ANSES is publishing the results of its expert appraisal on the risks induced by climate change on worker health. The expert appraisal adopted a future-oriented approach that looked ahead to the middle of the 21st Century, and sought to characterise the interactions between the climate, the environment and occupational health in order to identify the occupational risks potentially increased by climate change. It highlighted the fact that all occupational risks are and will be affected by changes to the climate and environment, with the exception of those associated with noise and artificial radiation. The main causes are rising temperatures, an alteration of the biological and chemical environment, and a change in the frequency and intensity of certain climate hazards. ANSES recommends strengthening action in the world of work to promote awareness of the health effects of climate change, particularly through the use of information and training. The Agency especially recommends encouraging all the parties concerned to immediately start integrating the climate change impacts that are already perceptible, or that can be anticipated, in their occupational risk assessment approaches, in order to deploy suitable preventive measures.
Climate change is a reality on which there is broad consensus in the scientific community. Because of the inertia of the climate system, changes to the climate related to human activities will continue for many years, regardless of any measures taken today. Combating climate change, which is part of a more global environmental change, is therefore essential to limit its magnitude.
The relationships between climate change and health have been studied for several years now. In a report published in 2016, for example, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that the health effects of climate change could already be estimated in terms of number of deaths and years of life lost, and would affect all population categories.
In 2011, France drew up an inter-sector and inter-ministerial National Adaptation to Climate Change Action Plan (PNACC) drawing together recommendations for a five-year period. In this framework, ANSES received a formal request from the Directorate General for Health and the Directorate General for Labour.
Increased occupational risks
Knowledge in climatology now enables precise projections to be made about the future climate. On the other hand, the mechanisms by which the changes to the climate or environment currently affect and may in the future affect human health, either for the general population or for workers, are still poorly documented.
However, the Agency's expert appraisal was able to show that with the exception of risks associated with noise and artificial radiation, all occupational risks are and will be affected by climate change and environmental changes.
This analysis led to the climate changes responsible for increases in occupational risks being classified into three groups/types:
- an increase in temperatures;
- an alteration of the biological and chemical environment;
- a change in the frequency and intensity of certain climate hazards.
Exposure to heat has consequences for arduous working conditions, related to a direct impact on occupational risks (discomfort, dehydration, heat strokes, etc.), and an indirect impact, especially on psychosocial risks due to situations of tension, accidental risks associated with impaired alertness, chemical risks associated with the inhalation of volatile substances, and a change to the risks associated with biological agents (infectious diseases, pollen, etc.).
Global change will therefore alter the spatial range of vectors of infectious diseases (mosquitoes, ticks, etc.) or promote the installation of new vectors, thereby modifying the risks associated with biological agents, especially for people working in the natural environment or in contact with other people and animals.
Changes in the frequency and intensity of certain climate hazards (flooding, submersion, an increase in the amount of rain, summer droughts or forest fires) could lead to an increase in risks, particularly accidental, and in physical and mental fatigue, especially for people providing emergency response and aid to others.
The Agency's recommendations
ANSES recommends strengthening action in the world of work without delay, in order to:
- promote awareness of the health effects of climate change, through the use of information and training;
- encourage all the occupational-health stakeholders concerned to immediately start integrating the climate change impacts that are already perceptible, or that can be anticipated, in their occupational risk assessment approaches (identification of people potentially affected, specific assessment of individual work stations and actual exposure depending on the geographical area concerned, etc.);
- continue the efforts already undertaken by certain professional organisations to integrate the health effects of climate change in their risk prevention approaches (for example by adapting work environments and organisation) using specific tools that will need to be developed.
In line with the orientations of the next PNACC and in order to advance knowledge, ANSES also recommends identifying relevant indicators related to the health impact of climate change, to enable the effects of climate change on occupational risks to be tracked and monitored.
In terms of research, in a context where jobs are evolving, ANSES recommends undertaking more research into the links between climate and environmental parameters and their effects on health (taking into account their changes and mutual interactions), in order to anticipate the development of occupational risks. Furthermore, efforts should continue to document developments in climate, environmental and bioclimatic indicators, and to anticipate extreme events.
Lastly, the Agency stresses the need to systematically integrate the issue of climate change and its impacts in future health risk assessments, for both workers and the general population.