How will climate change working life?
Abstract: Heat stress has been studied extensively. However, in the contemporary context of climate change there is a lack of information on the extent of future heat stress and its consequences, especially in occupational settings. The main aim of the research was to identify the current knowledge gaps by conducting a literature review (paper I) together with the collection of empirical data to examine the implications for labour productivity and occupational health in already hot workplaces in Chennai, India (paper II). Finally, it also looked at adaptation options for cooling and sustainability challenges from air conditioning use (paper III). The literature review found the main factors to exacerbate heat stress in current and future workplaces to be the urban heat island effect, physical work, individual differences, and the developing country context, where technological fixes and certain control measures are often not applicable. There is also a lack of information regarding the effects on vulnerable groups such as the poor, elderly and pregnant women. The field study in Chennai gathered data from measurements, observations and questionnaires. Climate measurements were combined with estimations of workload and measurements of the properties of the work clothing. Health risks, preventive methods, productivity impacts and the links to climate change were also explored. All workplaces surveyed, representing the industrial, service and agricultural sectors, had very high heat exposure, often reaching the international standard threshold (ISO 7243:1989) for working safely. Most workers had moderate to high workloads, some in direct sun exposure. Females were found to be more vulnerable due to the extra insulation added from wearing a protective shirt on top of traditional clothing when working. Most workers reported health problems due to heat exposure, including tiredness, dizziness and headaches. Problems in meeting production targets in the hotter months were usually compensated for by overtime work. When analyzing productivity loss and heat strain in a physiological model – the Predicted Heat Strain Model (ISO 7933:2004) – the parameters showed significant impacts, especially when a couple of extra degrees were added to the climate change scenario. Water provision and rehydration were critical parameters in the outcome. 2 Locally in workplaces, there were numerous approaches used to reduce heat exposure. Apart from taking rests, traditional methods, which included mainly drinks and diet, dominated the coping mechanisms. Air conditioning as a technical solution has experienced high growth in India as a means of protection from heat exposure. It is effective in reducing heat exposure but creates many sustainability challenges. In paper III, it was found that air conditioning use triggers an increase in energy consumption when the outdoor temperature increases, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions and therefore affecting climate change. In addition, the direct heat rejected from the air conditioning units adds to street level heat and thus, the urban heat island effect. If not abated, it has the potential to intensify climate change, and place extra loads on future energy supplies, especially during heat waves. The issue of increasing heat and associated productivity loss could impact working people’s health and livelihood. Further research needs to look at all aspects and impacts, taking an interdisciplinary perspective.
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