Climate and Health: Learning from Labor at #COSHCON19

Our rapidly warming climate is no joke for the world’s billions of workers who toil in hot environments. According to the recently-released Lancet Countdown, 133.6 billion potential work hours were lost globally in 2018 due to extreme heat. That’s 45 billion more hours lost than in 2000, when our climate was a little cooler and gentler.

These numbers are eye-popping and a little hard to comprehend. What does it mean for individual workers and their households to lose wages because they aren’t productive in the heat—or because they can’t work at all? I’m hoping to learn more about that this week when I head to Baltimore, Maryland for COSHCON, the annual meeting of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH).

yaxchibonam, Creative Commons / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

National COSH is made of local and state committees or coalitions dedicated to promoting and advocating for worker health and safety. This year’s program covers a wide array of topics from the impacts of opioids on Latino workers, to workplace chemicals, to, yes, extreme heat.

Of course, extreme heat isn’t the only occupational hazard of climate change. For instance, farmers had to dispose of millions of dead chickens after Hurricane Florence slammed North Carolina in 2017. First responders risked their own safety to protect people and property after a 500-year flood drenched communities in Arkansas earlier this year. And teachers in Butte County, California, are still dealing with the mental health impacts of the 2018 Camp Fire.

Designed by Clare Morganelli using Noun Project icons by Adrien Coquet, Binpodo Yu luck, b farias, Ben Davis, and Blair Adams

The bottom line is that climate change is making many day-to-day jobs more dangerous and uncertain. That’s why we need to act urgently to both slash climate-changing pollution and ensure that America’s workers are prepared for the climate harms to come.   

If you’re coming to COSHCON, swing by NRDC’s exhibit table to learn more about our efforts to protect workers from heat illnesses and other climate-related health threats. Then, share your concerns, hopes, and stories about the climate crisis with NRDC on Twitter (@NRDC) or Instagram (@NRDC_ORG) with the hashtag #COSHCON19, so others can join the conversation from afar!

About the Authors

Juanita Constible

Senior Advocate, Climate and Health, Climate & Clean Energy Program
Blog Post

The Asuncion Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act is a critical step to keeping American workers safe from the health threats of a warming world.

Blog Post

Extreme heat threatens the health of the workers picking up the pieces after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

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