A construction worker on site
OH&S

World Day for Safety and Health at Work – The Impact of Climate Change on Occupational Safety and Health

Published: April 26, 2024
A construction worker on site
OH&S

World Day for Safety and Health at Work and Workers’ Memorial Day is observed annually on 28 April. The day aims to place Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) on the national and international agenda; raise awareness about the consequences of workplace-related accidents and diseases; and remember those who have lost their lives in workplace-related incidents. The theme for this year is “The Impact of Climate Change on Occupational Safety and Health.”

The impact of Climate Change on WHS

According to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), extreme weather events and shifting weather patterns are escalating the risk to workers’ job security and overall health and well-being. Effects from climate change on workers include heat stress, psychosocial impacts, UV radiation exposure, air pollution, industrial accidents, heightened incidence of vector-borne diseases, and increased chemical exposure. The ITUC highlights a significant increase in heat-related deaths and illnesses among workers, particularly in outdoor-based occupations such as construction and agriculture.

The ITUC alert echoes a September 2023 policy brief from the International Labour Organization (ILO) that emphasised that without proper controls, the risk of injury, illness, and death of workers may increase due to the effects of climate change. Some statistics include:

  • The 1.6 billion people who work outside annually are at a much higher risk of being exposed to solar UV radiation.
  • In 2020, there were an estimated 26 million people worldwide living with chronic kidney disease due to workplace heat stress.
  • There are over 300,000 deaths annually due to work-related pesticide poisoning.
  • Over 15,000 workers are estimated to die annually due to work-related exposure to parasitic and vector-borne diseases.
  • An estimated 2.4 billion workers are exposed to excessive heat annually.[1]

The consideration of WHS due to climate change is important as risks may not only come from environmental changes but also from new work methodologies or the adoption of hazardous practices and materials. While adopting processes that promote environmentally friendly practices can mitigate WHS risks, these approaches may introduce new hazards. Work Safe Australia, in their 2023 – 2033 Australian Work Health and Safety (WHS) Strategy, cites the emergence of new technologies and industries focused on decarbonisation and the circular economy can raise WHS concerns in that the adoption of new processes may result in inadequate controls exposing workers to new WHS risks.

The ILO policy brief states that it is imperative that WHS policies and practices, including comprehensive risk assessments, are included as a foundational element of climate change considerations, with adaptation measures incorporated into policies and programs. New WHS risk assessments should take into account emerging hazards and risks associated with transitioning to greener practices, identifying appropriate prevention and protection measures based on the hierarchy of controls.

What has been the response from ISO?

New amendments to ISO standards also ensure climate change is considered in the updates and publication of new standards. ISO recently passed a resolution that sees the publication of two Climate Action-related Amendments to existing ISO Management Systems Standards.

Two amendments, added to Type A standards to include climate change considerations, highlight the importance of climate change as a relevant issue in the design and implementation of management systems. The standards already updated to include this additional consideration are ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 45001, ISO 22301, and ISO 27001, among others.

The amendments, published to support the ISO London Declaration on Climate Change, will also be included in new standards under development or revision into the new text of the Harmonised Structure (Appendix 2 of the Annex SL in the ISO/IEC Directives Part 1 Consolidated ISO Supplement) as follows:

4.1 Understanding the organisation and its context.

The organisation shall determine external and internal issues that are relevant to its purpose and that affect its ability to achieve the intended result(s) of its XXX management system.

Added: The organisation shall determine whether climate change is a relevant issue.

4.2 Understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties.

The organisation shall determine:

  • the interested parties that are relevant to the XXX management system.
  • the relevant requirements of these interested parties.
  • which of these requirements will be addressed through the XXX management system.

Added: NOTE: Relevant interested parties can have requirements related to climate change

These clauses intend to ensure that organisations consider the needs and expectations of interested parties related to climate change, relevant to the scope of the management system. This change is not intended to remove the emphasis of the management system or audit activities away from the primary focus of the standard (e.g., customer focus for ISO 9001), but to ensure that climate change is explicitly considered as part of the organisation’s context and stakeholders’ needs.

It acknowledges that climate change can have different effects on different management system components and that organisations may already be taking climate change into account. These new amendments ensure, however, that climate change is considered within a management system and that it is an external factor that is important enough for our community to require organisations to consider it now.

These amendments are a positive step towards promoting sustainable practices and addressing the challenges of climate change through a systematic and integrated approach.

The Australian Context

Closer to home, the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy provides a framework for implementing WHS improvements, addressing emerging challenges such as climate change and the green economy. The strategy identifies climate-related risk as an emerging challenge Australia will face in the next decade.

With heatwaves, flooding, and extreme weather events becoming more frequent, potentially disrupting business operations, and posing risks to WHS, Australian organisations need to ensure the implementation of suitable control measures to safeguard the well-being of workers and others.

World Day for Safety and Health at Work and Worker’s Memorial Day serve as an annual reminder of the importance of prioritising WHS, and this year’s theme underscores the pressing need to address the escalating risks posed by climate change to workers’ well-being. Current efforts are positive steps towards promoting sustainable practices and aim to address the challenges of climate change through a systematic and integrated approach to WHS. By acknowledging and addressing the intersection of climate change and WHS, we can strive towards safer and healthier workplaces for all.

[1] wcms_922850.pdf (ilo.org)

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