Climate Change and Industrial Hygiene
What does climate change have to do with industrial hygiene? Well, the guiding tenets of our profession are “anticipation, recognition, evaluation, control, and confirmation,” and these certainly apply to emerging issues such as the impact of climate change on worker safety and health. A report released in May 2014 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program concluded that weather and climate patterns are changing, causing increasingly frequent and severe heat waves, wildland fires, drought, flooding, and extreme weather events, as well as a rise in sea levels. What was a theoretical possibility some 20 or so years ago has now become a recognized public health threat. Global climate change has become one of the most visible environmental concerns of the 21st century, and it has the potential to affect worker health and safety both directly and indirectly. The purpose of this article is not to debate the potential causes of climate change, but to discuss what we can do as safety and health professionals in response to a changing climate. It is important that we educate and position ourselves so we can proactively address the associated worker safety and health issues, and identify controls for mitigating hazards and adapting to our changing climate. OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS OF A CHANGING CLIMATE What do we know about how climate change affects worker safety and health, and how should we respond? What information and tools do we need to protect workers? How do we respond to current and anticipated health impacts?
In general, we can look at how climate change can affect workers from these perspectives:
  • amplification of known safety and health hazards such as severe weather events, heat, wildland fire, and infectious disease
  • new, unanticipated, or unrecognized hazards (increased infectious disease vector ranges, increase in pesticide use)
  • hazards that result from our response to climate change such as the development of renewable energy, recycling, carbon sequestration, and material substitution