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Impacts of climate change are discussed in every other workplace – viewpoint of occupational safety is included rarely

Climate change is visible in workplaces, but an invisible subject when it comes to occupational safety and health. This is apparent in the Occupational Safety and Health Panel, the respondents of which included over 500 occupational safety officers and representatives. The results of the annual panel of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and the Centre for Occupational Safety highlighted the need to reform the competence of occupational safety and health personnel so that workplaces can prepare for the occupational safety risks caused by climate change.

Slightly more than half (53%) of the respondents of the Occupational Safety and Health Panel estimated that climate change has affected the activities of their workplace to at least some extent. About one in ten (8%) estimate the impact to be significant or extensive.

The most frequently mentioned impacts are energy solutions, material and product selections, recycling, emission reduction, climate-friendly strategies and preparing for extreme weather conditions.

“For example, workplaces have started using wind electricity, utilising solar energy or replacing equipment or materials with more energy-efficient or ethical alternatives,” says Minna Toivanen, Senior Advisor at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Of the occupational safety and health personnel, half indicated that their workplace encourages employees to be environmentally friendly and to take environmental friendliness into account in procurements and work performances. However, only about one fifth of the workplaces had information available about the work’s environmental impacts, held training related to the matter or had taken the matter into account in the induction training.

Climate change rarely addressed from the viewpoint of occupational safety

From the panel respondents, almost two thirds (60%) indicated that questions related to climate change had been discussed in their workplace, at least to some extent.

From the viewpoint of occupational safety, the impacts of climate change have only been discussed in a few workplaces (8%).

The most commonly recognised occupational safety risks are increase in slippery surfaces in wintertime, thermal exposure, and the use of protective equipment in hot conditions. Additionally, many workplaces have recognised the dangers of extreme weather conditions, such as storms and floods, and the measures required after them, the variation in the amount of rainfall, and the illnesses caused by ticks and other animals.

Some of the respondents indicated that climate change is not a relevant issue in their workplace and the consequences of it are not deemed to fall under the expertise of the persons responsible for occupational health services and occupational safety.

Information and practices needed for recognition of new risks

There was considerable variation in how the workplaces have prepared for climate change: Some workplaces take the issues related to climate change into account as part of their normal risk assessment and pay special attention to possible new risks. Other workplaces ignore them completely.  

“The most concerning thing is that the monitoring of occupational safety risks related to climate change was minimal. Workplaces should adopt a new approach for examining their risk assessment practices and think about how to recognise new hazards or exposures related to climate change,” says Hanna Uusitalo, Senior Specialist at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Occupational safety and health personnel felt that climate change is a new issue in occupational safety and health, which is why diverse information is required: basic information, basic facts, information on identifying occupational safety risks, as well as information specific to various sectors and professions.

“Climate change will affect work, its contents and processes. The results of the Occupational Safety and Health Panel improve our understanding of which kinds of occupational safety aspects will be included in the climate change conversation and which competences workplaces should increase,” says Development Manager Jarna Savolainen, summarising the significance of the Occupational Safety and Health Panel.

Read more about the results in the Work-Life Knowledge service

Occupational Safety and Health Panel

Further information