In 1995, an estimated 35 million full-time jobs were lost globally due to high heat intensities; and by 2030, job losses due to heat stress is projected to rise by at least 1.3% unless urgent actions are taken.
Heat stress is an illness that occurs when the body receives excess amount of heat than it can tolerate, thereby leading to physiological impairment such as fatigue, headache, heat rash, heat stroke etc.
According to International Labour Organization (ILO), exposure to working conditions above 24–26°C could lead to reduced labour productivity; and at 33–34°C, a worker operating at moderate intensity could lose 50% of his or her work capacity. While it is widely recognized that lower-middle income countries (LMICs) and low-income countries (LICs) are most affected by heat stress, but there has not been significant evidence to support this claim until recently.
A report prepared by Catherine Saget, Chief of Work Income and Equity Unit at the International Labour Office (ILO) and others provide more insight: Using climate models and global temperature projections with labour force projections and occupational health data compiled by Tord Kjellstrom, a visiting professor at the international institute for global health and 5 others.
Below are some key findings from the research report:
Heat stress has a significant impact on labour productivity in Africa, especially the western and central parts of the region.
Approximately 14 million jobs or more could be lost by 2030 unless urgent actions are taken to manage the situation.
Prevalence of heat stress could further widen gender inequalities in the workforce, with women bearing the greater burden. To shed more light here, in Sub-Saharan Africa, agriculture employs 12.2 million women, who make up 50.2% of total employment in that sector, while men make up over 80% of total employment in the construction sector.
Aside from being the warmest continent in the world, Africa has a high share of informal workers compared to the rest of the world. These informal workers are mainly in the agriculture and construction sectors; and as a result of the job’s nature, they are frequently exposed to high levels of heat.
Given the findings, there is therefore a need for African governments to promote the formalization and modernization of mostly agriculture and construction jobs. For instance, encouraging mechanized agricultural practices through "easily accessible" grants and relevant skill acquisition programmes. This will go a long way to make coping with the heat stress easier while increasing efficiency and sustainability of food production under new climatic conditions.
Government agencies such as the ministry of health need to also undertake monitoring and awareness campaigns to enlighten people about the dangers of heat stress and provide information to help them minimize associated risks.
Finally, employers must be ready to review employee working conditions with a view to increase room ventilation, reduce ‘high-energy bulb’ lighting, among many others.
Photo credit: ILO report
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