The US take on heat and climate change

Coincidentally, as Europe burns and a little blog in Australia writes about the occupational context of excessive heat, a new book called Heat – Life and Death on a scorched planet was in the bookstores. Jeff Goodell, like so many North American authors, writes for his local readers even though his publishers sell books globally.

However, he does address the occupational health and safety (OHS) impacts of heat and offers some adaptations.

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Excessive heat is another reason to redesign work

There seems little doubt that global warming is now a reality. It has been forecast since the 1970s at least, but the fact of creeping change needs a turning point, and it seems that the current Northern Hemisphere Summer is that point. The Southern Hemisphere’s turn is only a few months away.

Few are talking about prevention. Instead, it is adaptation. Those adaptations need to be more than interventions at the individual level, such as increased hydration, wide-brimmed hats and facekinis. Global warming (climate change) has been a developing hazard for a while, contributed to by most countries and owned by none. Employees and customers need to reassess their work-related expectations. Here are some occupational issues and controls that deserve active reflection.

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Is the OHS role in ESG overstated?

The March 2023 edition of Professional Safety, the journal of the American Society of Safety Professionals, included a lead story about the safety professional’s role in ESG (Environment Safety and Corporate Governance) strategies.  Its perspective was a little unclear and was based on many assumptions.

One of the problems with the article is the assumption that the occupational health and safety (OHS) professional has a large influence over the decisions of the business.  That is rarely the case, and there are many instances of OHS being sidelined or compartmentalised by structural and reporting lines and the exclusion of OHS from key decision forums like Board Meetings. So does OHS have a role and to what extent?

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Research indicates OHS strategies

Last week, the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research (ISCRR) conducted presentations of its latest research programs. Those projects included:

  • Vicarious Trauma
  • Evaluating Pilot Programs
  • Bitumen Fume Exposure
  • Systems Thinking
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Extreme heat

Global warming is affecting how we work just as much as how we live. Working in Heat policies are designed based on experience rather than meteorological and climate forecasts, meaning these documents are always chasing reality and not getting ahead of the occupational hazard.

On January 19, 2023, Steven Greenhouse (coincidental name) looked at the topic of working in extreme for Nieman Reports writing that:

“High heat can be a big problem for the nation’s workers, not just farmworkers and construction workers, but delivery workers, utility workers, landscaping workers, and warehouse workers.”

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Will WorkSafe need to become a VicSafe to address climate change?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) professionals are largely aware of the latest international standard for OHS management systems, ISO45001. This is the core standard for businesses to assess their safe systems of work. Others will be aware of the supplementary guidance to ISO45001, like ISO45003 -guidelines for managing psychosocial risks at work.

Recently Phillipe KL Lai Choo spoke about some of the other OHS guidances due for release or development. One of those relates to climate change which could create unexpected changes to how OHS is regulated and enforced.

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Will firewalking become the norm?

Occupational health and safety (OHS) will have little effect on reducing the pace of global warming. Still, OHS will definitely need to assist in changing how we continue to work in future weather extremes. SafetyAtWorkBlog has previously written about working in extreme heat, but a new multimedia report from the New York Times (paywalled) illustrates the challenges in some uncomfortable ways.

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