Over 70% of world's workforce exposed to excessive heat each year, UN finds


The International Labor Organization (ILO) has reported that excessive heat caused by human-induced climate change kills thousands of workers worldwide every year, with tens of millions more injured. According to the ILO, over 70% of the global workforce is exposed to extreme heat on at least one occasion annually, and this figure is expected to rise as global temperatures continue to increase. Because of this, the organization is urging governments to create additional workplace safety rights and protections, particularly for outdoor workers.

According to the ILO, workers experience 22.85 million occupational injuries and 18,970 work-related deaths annually from excessive heat. Additionally, hundreds of thousands more die from pesticide poisoning, air pollution, solar UV radiation, and parasitic and vector-borne diseases. Workers in specific industries, such as agriculture, construction, natural resource management, and refuse collection, are particularly at risk of injury or death from extreme heat and other outdoor occupational hazards. Migrant workers in informal construction and agricultural settings or those in emergency services during extreme weather events face an even higher risk.

Despite the urgency of the situation, attempts by Congress and the Biden administration to establish federal-level safety measures have stalled or made little progress. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that extreme heat killed almost 1,000 workers between 1992 and 2021 and caused at least 33,890 work-related injuries and illnesses between 2011 and 2020. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration acknowledges that these numbers are likely underestimates due to difficulties in tracking and reporting heat-related injuries and deaths.

To address the issue, some states have created heat protections for workers, while others have banned local attempts to establish them. Last week in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation banning local governments from requiring heat-exposure protections, such as mandated breaks, for outdoor workers. This is the second state to do so, following Texas, which passed similar legislation in 2023.

In conclusion, the impact of extreme heat on workers worldwide is a pressing issue that demands immediate attention from governments and employers. By creating additional workplace safety rights and protections, particularly for outdoor workers, we can prevent injuries, illnesses, and deaths caused by excessive heat and ensure that workers are able to safely and productively perform their jobs.  

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