Climate crisis puts 70% of workers at risk, says ILO report

Published May 27, 2024


The International Labour Organisation (ILO) released a report this month highlighting a serious health crisis facing the global workforce due to climate change. The report, titled "Ensuring Safety and Health at Work in a Changing Climate," revealed that excessive heat impacts 70% of the world's 3.4 billion workers, leading to 18,970 work-related deaths and approximately 23 million injuries annually.

The report underscores the severe health risks posed by the climate crisis, including cancer, cardiovascular illness, kidney dysfunction, and physical injuries.

"The climate crisis exposes 2.4 billion workers to significant health hazards," it stated.

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable, with extreme heat doubling the risk of miscarriages and stillbirths, and increasing the likelihood of low birth weight babies, as highlighted by a 2024 study in the National Library of Medicine.

Workplace clothing, humidity, and other factors compound the dangers of climate-related heat stress. In addition to heat, 1.6 billion workers face UV radiation, leading to nearly 19,000 deaths from skin cancer each year.

Furthermore, air pollution at workplaces contributes to up to 860,000 deaths annually among outdoor workers.

Agricultural workers, numbering over 870 million, are at risk from dangerous pesticide exposure, causing more than 300,000 deaths annually.

Moreover, parasitic and vector-borne diseases like malaria result in 15,000 work-related deaths each year.

The World Economic Forum's report on the impact of climate change on human health forecasts dire outcomes over the next 20 years.

It predicts that the intensifying climate crisis will cause 14.5 million deaths and $12.5 trillion in economic losses by 2050.

Extreme weather events, including floods, droughts, heat waves, tropical storms, and wildfires, will disproportionately affect vulnerable communities.

Floods alone are expected to claim 8.5 million lives globally, with the Asia Pacific region being the hardest hit.

To mitigate these impacts, global emissions must be reduced by 28-42% by 2030, according to the UN Environment Programme. While reducing fossil fuel consumption is critical, there is no immediate solution.

“It’s clear that climate change is already creating significant additional health hazards for workers,” said Manal Azzi, OSH Team Lead at the ILO.

“It is essential that we heed these warnings. Occupational safety and health considerations must become part of our climate change responses – both policies and actions. Working in safe and healthy environments is recognised as one of the ILO’s fundamental principles and rights at work. We must deliver on that commitment in relation to climate change, just as in every other aspect of work.”