Workplace Impacts from Climate Change
Introduction: This podcast is brought to you by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. CCOHS is situated upon the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas. This land is covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabek to share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. We further acknowledge that this land is covered by the Between the Lakes Purchase, 1792, between the Crown and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
Ashley: Hello and welcome to Health and Safety to Go, a CCOHS podcast.
All around the world we’re seeing the acceleration of extreme weather events, like wildfires, earthquakes and catastrophic floods. Environment and Climate Change Canada recently commissioned a report that showed Canada is warming at roughly twice the rate of the rest of the world. And that these warming temperatures will continue to trigger weather extremes and other effects. To discuss the impact on workers we’re joined today by Joanna Eyquem, geoscientist and managing director at the Intact Center at the University of Waterloo. The Intact Center conducts research to help communities adapt to climate change and extreme weather events.
Joanna, thanks so much for joining us today.
Joanna: It's great to be here.
Ashley: So, on the whole, it feels like people in Canada are becoming more aware of how climate change is affecting their homes and their families. What kind of climate change effects are already being felt in workplaces across Canada? And how are they affecting the health and safety of workers?
Joanna: So, in Canada, in terms of risks that we're concerned about, flooding is the costliest risk in terms of property damage. But there's also wildfire, which is also highly affecting certain areas where our homes come into contact with wild land areas. And also, extreme heat risk. I think, since the heat dome in 2021, people have really been paying attention to this, and this is obviously a key concern for workers as well. So not just at home, but also people are working outdoors, people are working in offices, or more are going back to offices. So, this is a key concern going forward,
Ashley: So, are there particular professions that are most vulnerable? We talked about offices and outdoors. What kind of jobs are feeling these effects the most?
Joanna: Yeah, I think in terms of extreme heat, obviously people who are working in outdoor situations are directly impacted by extreme heat events. So and heat waves and, you know, there's actually, you know, limits in some countries on what heat we can actually work in.
We are increasingly seeing attention to setting maximum heat limits as well in terms of office settings as well. That's kind of something that's probably coming but there isn't clear legislation around that yet. And then I guess obviously professions who are responsible for responding to these events. You know, kind of, the health professions, emergency service professions, all feeling a lot more strain. When we're having to respond through like more frequent and more intense natural hazards.
Ashley: That makes sense. So how should employers adapt for their workers and what happens when they don't adapt quickly enough?
Joanna: So, I think employers, I'm not sure how many are talking to their workers, even about these risks, you know, there's obviously, when you're an employer, there's a risk to property and things like that. So, you know you should be looking at your flood risk and your fire risk. But when it comes to also people, we should be tooling as citizens. And let me include their employers for how they can also play their part in climate adaptation. So, the national adaptation strategy really makes the point that climate adaptation is a whole of society approach, and it's not just the role of government to come in and see those. Basically, we all need to do our part. And that includes employers providing information to their employees about what the risks are in their area and about what the risks are around the buildings where they're working, and what their risks are around their own homes as well. And I think, you know, the COVID situation of where, you know, most people are working in a hybrid situation, they're working some days at home, some days they aren’t. So, the boundary between what is work and what is home is really blurred. So what is affecting your home is actually affecting your work as well.
Ashley: That's true. So Joanna, you've worked on this issue in different locations all over the world: Russia, the US, the UK, western Africa; what kind of unique approaches to climate adaptation have you seen? And what can Canada learn from other countries in terms of protecting workers from the effects of climate change?
Joanna: So, I think one thing that I typically work off, and I'm very passionate about, is how we work with nature to reduce climate risk. And I think, you know, work from the Netherlands and the UK, in particular, and things are accelerating through the US now, as well with the Inflation Reduction Act. So, how we can really value nature services and helping to protect, as well as providing benefits to nature. I feel that is a key area of focus of Canada, particularly, as we are lucky to have a lot of, a lot more nature in certain areas of the country. So, I feel that’s a key area for Canada's to work on.
But in terms of, you know we have got now at first National Adaptation Strategy. So I think going forward and achieving the targets, there are quantified targets and time frames in that strategy. And it calls on private sector. It calls on other elements of our society to step up. So, you know, we're going to be tracking that very closely
Ashley: That makes sense. What else would you like our listeners to know about climate change in the workplace?
Joanna: I think it really is time for adaptation, because when we talk about climate action, some people's immediate thoughts turn to reducing greenhouse gases, which is really important. We need to slow down climate change, but we are beyond the point where we are going to avoid it. We're already feeling these impacts.
So, I think it's really time to focus on resilience and adaptation in a more serious and urgent way. You know, every time that, all the time that we're not adapting is time that we don't have and that you know, potential losses and impacts on people's health that we're experiencing that we could have reduced if we would have acted in time. So I think, you know, we kind of sometimes bounce between different natural disasters. You know, our attention span is kind of on it when it's happening and then we kind of drift off into other things. But it's really time to act on adaptation.
Ashley: Joanna. Thanks so much for being with us today and sharing your expertise.
Joanna: Thanks so much.
Ashley: If you're interested in going deeper on this topic, Joanna will also be a part of CCOHS’ upcoming workshop on climate change and its impact on the workplace happening March 22nd. Visit our events page at CCOHS.ca for more information.
You can also visit CCOHS.ca and search “climate change” for more resources.
Thanks for listening.