An increase in heat stress at work linked to climate change could have a massive impact on global productivity and economic losses, according to a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The lost output will be equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs — or 2.2 per cent of total working hours worldwide — by 2030, either because it is too hot to work or because workers have to work at a slower pace, said Working on a Warmer Planet.
“The impact of heat stress on labour productivity is a serious consequence of climate change,” said Catherine Saget, chief of unit in the ILO’s research department and one of the main authors of the report. “We can expect to see more inequality between low- and high-income countries and worsening working conditions for the most vulnerable.”
The world’s poorest countries will be worst affected, particularly in West Africa and South-East Asia, said the ILO, and the total cost of these losses will be $2,400 billion every year.
Agriculture, construction to be worst affected
The report defines heat stress as generally occurring at above 35 degrees Celsius, in places where there is high humidity. Excess heat at work is an occupational health risk and in extreme cases can lead to heatstroke, which can be fatal, said the United Nations agency.
Farmers are set to be worst hit by rising temperatures, as the sector will be responsible for 60 per cent of global working hours lost from heat stress by 2030.
Construction will also be “severely impacted,” with an estimated 19 per cent of global working hours lost at the end of the next decade, said the report.
Other at-risk sectors include garbage collection, emergency services, transport, tourism and sports, with southern Asian and western African States suffering the biggest productivity losses, equivalent to about five per cent of working hours by 2030.
To adapt to this new reality, the ILO is calling for urgent measures by governments, employers and workers, focusing on protecting the most vulnerable. These include adequate infrastructure and improved early warning systems for extreme weather events, and improved implementation of international labour standards in occupational safety and health to help tackle heat-related hazards.
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