Millions of workers in the United States get injured or sick on the job every year, and thousands die. Although the rates of occupational injuries and deaths have declined since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was established in 1971, workers still face countless hazards—from the physical stress of repetitive motions to chainsaw accidents to landslides.
Climate change is already making existing workplace hazards worse and creating new ones, and the situation will only accelerate as our world gets even hotter and our weather more extreme. Outdoor workers will be exposed to more severe heat, more toxic substances, and a heightened risk of infectious diseases. As increasingly extreme weather events destroy infrastructure and threaten communities, first responders and cleanup crews will face ever more frequent, exhausting, and dangerous deployments. And as the world grapples with the magnitude of the climate crisis and the societal upheaval it causes, workers across the occupational spectrum may have to provide aid to colleagues or to people in their care who find themselves in mental distress.
To better understand the scope and scale of the dangers climate change poses to occupational health and safety, NRDC scoured government databases, media reports, and the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies relevant to climate change and workers. The authors also talked to labor leaders, occupational health and safety experts, and union members about their personal experiences with climate-related threats to their health.
This report reviews the latest evidence documenting how climate change is threatening the health and safety of workers, identifies research needs, and offers a series of federal policy recommendations to protect workers in an increasingly climate-disrupted world. The authors also share stories from workers across the United States who offer their personal experiences of climate-related health and safety harms and share their fears about—and hopes for—the future.