ILO: Excessive Heat Linked to Climate Change Affects 70% of Workers
Outdoor workers are at a high potential health risk as climate change worsens heat.

Over 70% of the world’s workforce faces potential health risks due to climate change, according to the latest report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) released earlier this week. Nearly 1.6 billion outdoor workers are also at risk from high levels of air pollution.

“More than 70% of our workers are exposed to excessive heat at least one point in their working lives. That’s 2.4 billion workers globally out of a global workforce of 3.4 billion,” said Manal Azzi, Senior Specialist on Occupational Safety and Health (ILO) at the report launch at the United Nations in Geneva.

The report, Ensuring safety and health at work in a changing climate, states that climate change is already having a serious impact on the safety and health of workers in all regions of the world. The share of global workers impacted by climate change hazards has increased by about from 65% in 2020 to 70% in 2024, the report said.

Workers in the world’s most impoverished regions face heightened risks from scorching heatwaves, prolonged droughts, raging wildfires, and devastating hurricanes, according to the ILO.


Range of climate-linked health risks

The report notes that numerous health conditions in workers have been linked to climate change, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory illnesses, kidney dysfunction and mental health conditions. The impact includes the 1.6 billion workers exposed to UV radiation, with more than 18,960 work-related deaths annually from non-melanoma skin cancer.

“More than 22 million workers are suffering from sicknesses and injuries related to exposure to excessive heat and these can range from injuries in transport, in traffic accidents due to bad night of sleep because it was excessively hot, to construction accidents, injuries, slips and falls related to the exposure to heat,” Azzi said.

Many deaths are also directly related to the impact of climate change. “Nearly 20,000 workers are dying yearly because of these injuries in the workplace related to rising temperatures and to exposure to excessive heat, indoor and outdoor heat, and losing millions – over two million disability-adjusted years – are lost because of injuries and deaths related to heat,” said Azzi, who is the ILO’s specialist on occupational safety and health.

A traditional brick factory in Tozeur, southern Tunisia. In Africa and South Asia brick making and waste burning are major sources of air pollution.

High levels of air pollution causing harm

The report also said that nearly 1.6 billion outdoor workers are at risk of health impacts due to worsening air pollution, particularly those working in the transport sector and firefighters.

Around 860,000 work-related deaths have been attributed to air pollution for outdoor workers annually.

The report noted that modified weather patterns due to climate change have influenced levels of outdoor air pollutants, such as ground-level ozone, fine (PM2.5) and course (PM10) particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and sulphur dioxide (SO2).

Rise in vector-borne diseases

With increasing temperatures and higher humidity, more pesticides are also being used in the agriculture sector. According to the report, there are more than 870 million workers in agriculture that are likely to be exposed to pesticides, with more than 300,000 deaths attributed to pesticide poisoning annually.

Azzi notes that “15,000 people die due to parasitic and vector-borne diseases exposed to in the workplace”.

“Obviously, these include a lot of diseases like dengue, rabies and various diseases that are increasing in regions that we never used to see them before. Malaria has even increased and we’re seeing it’s shown in countries that it never used to be before.”

The ILO has planned a meeting in 2025 with government, employer and worker representatives to provide policy guidance on climate hazards.

Image Credits: Unsplash, WHO/Diego Rodriguez.

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