Center for Health
and the Global
Climate Health and Risk Tool

Worker Protections

by Alan Wang, BA, Jeremy J. Hess, MD, MPH
Published: 06/20/2023

With rising global temperatures, workers may be increasingly required to work in hot environments, and will be more susceptible to heat stress, occupational injuries, and potentially decreased productivity. Importantly, heat stress for workers derives from both external sources of heat in the environment as well as internal sources including metabolic activity, which is increased during physical activity. Heat stress can be amplified by personal protective equipment that reduces evaporative cooling through sweating. Workers are at risk for dehydration, occupational injuries, absenteeism, and chronic kidney injury, as well as decreased productivity, which can affect wages. Individuals working in industries that require strenuous physical activity, outdoor operations, and exposure to high-temperature environments are the most vulnerable. Worker protections are interventions put in place to protect workers from heat exposure and heat stress, and generally fall into the categories of infrastructure changes, administrative or work practice changes including empowering workers to pace themselves in their work, and personal protective equipment. Policies may be implemented at multiple levels but ultimately play out at the worksite and workers individually. There is a wide range of specific potential interventions, with varying costs, implementation timelines, and degrees of environmental sustainability. Consensus recommendations for US workplaces are available. While some more effective interventions have higher upfront costs, these costs are likely to be at least partially offset through increased worker health, productivity, and retention.

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