Climate Action

Workers in the Inferno

With each passing summer, temperatures reach new peaks and storms get more severe. NASA reported that summer 2023 was the hottest summer on record, and all signs point to summer 2024 getting even warmer. While these conditions can be eased by using air conditioning and limiting time outside, many manual laborers do not have this luxury. 

In April 2024, the U.N. International Labor Organization (ILO) published a report detailing the most concerning Occupational Safety Hazards (OSH) derived from climate change. The ILO identified six climate-related threats to workers: extreme heat, UV radiation, extreme weather, air pollution, vector-borne disease, and agrochemicals. Outdoor workers are particularly vulnerable to these threats.

This report merely establishes suggestions for how workplaces can protect employees in light of soaring temperatures but does not require workplaces to enact protections against climate threats. Similarly, the United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) publishes tips for identifying heat-related illnesses and offers a recommended heat standard, but they do not mandate heat protections in the workplace, even when temperatures surpass 100℉. In the absence of sufficient workplace protections, laborers in various fields of work are suffering from life-threatening diseases and a loss of income. 

Below is a list of just some of the sectors facing the most pressing climate related challenges.


Agricultural workers are exposed to all six of ILO’s recognised threats, and according to a 2022 study, deaths from extreme heat exposure are 35 times higher among agricultural workers than all other relative industries. This is partially due to the intense nature of this physical work. With temperatures often reaching 40°C/104°F during extreme heat waves, farm laborers can suffer from heatstroke, severe exhaustion, and in extreme cases, chronic kidney disease. 

The struggle endured by agricultural workers is often worse in the Global South, in Pakistan and India for example where they are experiencing temperatures reaching 50°C/122°F during heatwaves. Farming can be almost unbearable in these temperatures. An estimated 60% of families in India rely on farming for their income, and low pay in the sector often compels farmers to maximize their productivity by working longer hours, even in the midst of brutal heat waves.  

That is just the start of the problems. Farm workers also face pests like disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes, which thrive in warmer conditions forcing workers to use harmful pesticides for protection. Exposure to the pesticides can result in poisoning or even cancers and other illnesses in the long term.

Building and Construction

Construction workers too are vulnerable to heat stress and skin cancer from working outside. Their sustained exposure to UV radiation can lead to non-melanoma skin cancer, which contributes to 18,960 work-related global deaths annually.

In the US, one study found that 36% of occupational heat-related deaths from 1992-2016 were among construction workers, with the risk being higher among migrant workers, potentially due to factors including underrepresentation in labor unions.


Tourist destinations around the world remain open despite formidable summer heatwaves, often expecting workers to maintain their regular working hours in extreme heat.

In the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia, temperatures are already soaring past 110°F. Meanwhile, cities like Rome, Bologna, and Florence are experiencing ‘red alerts’ for extreme heat. This ‘red alert’ designation indicates that the Italian government considers the temperatures dangerously high for everyone, not just for the elderly or other vulnerable groups.

Greece has also been experiencing extreme heat, leading to a wave of tourist deaths. Recently, the famous BBC broadcaster and bestselling health author, Dr. Michael Mosley, died while hiking on the island of Symi.

Last summer, workers at the ancient Acropolis site in Athens, Greece were expected to work in temperatures reaching 110°F. To advocate for their safety, they went on strike and began speaking out about the challenges they faced.


Managing wildfires is increasingly becoming a danger in the summer months, especially in the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Australia. The National Interagency Fire Center reports an average of 70,000 wildfires each year in the United States alone, putting firefighters in danger much more frequently. 

But firefighters are also exposed to an array of plastic related toxins used to make their uniforms and specialized gear fire-proof. One such chemical group, PFAS, are known carcinogens. In addition to facing life-threatening conditions while containing wildfires, firefighters are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.

What Can Be Done?

In 2023, the Biden administration established an executive action demanding protections for workers affected by extreme heat. A similar bill was introduced in Congress, but has yet to make it through the Senate, meaning that these protections are not set in stone. 

Right now, it is nonprofit groups and labor unions who are spearheading worker protection efforts in India. For example, to counter the unprecedented extreme heat and inadequate action by the Indian government, the Self-Employed Women’s Association, in collaboration with the nonprofit Climate Resilience For All, developed an insurance policy that offers a stipend to Union members so that they do not have to work during heatwaves. When governments are idle, union action is invaluable.

Long Term…

According to the ILO, climate change is responsible for tens of millions of occupational injuries and thousands of deaths each year. As the impacts of climate change worsen, these numbers will rise.  

In addition to the injuries and deaths resulting from rising temperatures, these profoundly harsh conditions result in less productive work days. With this in mind, the ILO estimates that heat stress alone will lead to a $2.4 trillion decrease in the global GDP by 2030 and will force up food and infrastructure costs. This is why everyone should be advocating for climate-oriented working standards and practices for all workers.