“Construction worker,” “farmer” and “police officer” already rank near the top of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. Now those jobs may become even more dangerous thanks to climate change. According to “An Overview of Occupational Risks from Climate Change,” published by faculty from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, climate change is impacting different occupations in different ways. Outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable, as climate change will create never-before-seen health threats.
A recent article from MPH@GW, the online MPH program for George Washington University, details how small changes in climate have already started to trigger outcomes that impact occupational health. The authors identified the following six Hazard Zones for workers that are directly attributable to changes in climate:
- Heat: Workers exposed to hotter temperatures are more exposed to heat-related illnesses like stroke and heat exhaustion.
- Extreme weather: Search-and-rescue missions after natural disasters caused by extreme weather expose workers to dangerous conditions.
- Ozone: Warmer temperatures lead to an increase in ground-level ozone which can be associated with serious respiratory issues like lung damage, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): Certain types of cancer are linked to PAHs that are released by burning coal, oil, gasoline, trash and other materials.
- Workplace violence: Multiple studies have found a link between heat and crime, or aggressive and violent behavior.
- Pathogens and vector-borne diseases: Standing water created by extreme rain or flooding can be a breeding ground for certain pathogens. It also contributes to an increase in vector-borne diseases like the West Nile Virus, Lyme disease and the Zika virus.
Consider these Hazard Zones through the lens of those already working in dangerous occupations. Construction, farm and emergency response workers will now have to manage new risks. But they won’t be alone. These climate change threats can impact indoor and outdoor workers in industries like manufacturing to transportation. Employers, safety professionals and workers must stay informed about emerging issues and hazards associated with climate change as a way to address worker safety and health.