A new report has predicted that the rise in global temperatures resulting from climate change will increase the risk of occupational heat stress, and ultimately hit productivity in the workplace.

The report, entitled Working on a Warmer Planet: The Effect of Heat Stress on Productivity and Decent Work and published by the International Labour Organization (ILO), has examined the impact on global warming on work-related heat stress, and concludes that it will damage productivity and cause the loss of around 80 million jobs and economic losses by the year 2030, with the poorest countries being the worst affected.

The projections have been based on a global temperature rise of 1.5°C by the end of this century and suggest that in 2030, 2.2% of total working hours worldwide will be lost because of higher temperatures.

The loss of 80 million full-time jobs is said to be equivalent to global economic losses of US$2,400 billion.

Moreover, the report cautions this is a conservative estimate because it assumes that the global mean temperature rise will not exceed 1.5°C.

It also assumes that work in agriculture and construction — two of the sectors worst affected by heat stress — are carried out in the shade.

The report goes on to suggest that proliferation of so-called “urban heat islands”, areas of concentrated heat inside cities resulting from growing populations and urbanisation, will further intensify the impact of heatwaves, aggravating risks to workers.

The predicted impact of heat stress will be geographically uneven, according to the report, with Southern Asia and Western Africa set to experience even greater economic hits and loss of working hours.

Introducing the report, Catherine Saget, Chief of Unit in the ILO’s Research department, said, “The impact of heat stress on labour productivity is a serious consequence of climate change... We can expect to see more inequality between low and high income countries and worsening working conditions for the most vulnerable.”

Last reviewed 10 September 2019