Climate change is starting to impact the safety of American workplaces. Statistics reported by The Guardian reveal that over 60 employees die in US workplaces every year from climate-related causes, typically excessive heat. With the planet predicted to continue warming as the years go by, even with new climate change control measures, it will become the responsibility of the employer to ensure that their working spaces are safe for employees. This will become an important responsibility in the office or on-site workspace today, and as employers will soon see, the remote workplace too.
A legal responsibility
It’s important for employers to note that there is a legal requirement for them to look after employee health as it pertains to heat – even if there isn’t a specific legal statute. OSHA requires and expects employers to provide the tools to employees – water, ventilation, and so on – to cope with hot working environments. This most applies to outdoor workers and seasonal jobs right now, but will expand. According to legal experts, the workplace can be held responsible for any injury sustained on their premises or in the course of completing work for them. In such cases, the injured party is advised to seek legal help from a work injury lawyer. As workplaces previously shielded from extreme weather conditions, including offices, become exposed to climate change led hot weather, they’ll need to adapt and make sure they look for these legal requirements to be met.
Climate change varies wildly in its results, but there will be impacts on every single US state. Urban and rural areas of the tropical Southeast can expect up to 100 further hot evenings, according to Grist; the Midwest could see hotter, longer summers, with 25% agricultural output reduction – meaning more days out on the field to make-up. This points to a huge range of health and safety considerations that the workplace will have to consider. These come to more than just the matter of workplace performance and health, and encroach into the private health of employees as they deal with the impact of rising temperatures on home life.
According to Stanford research, 42% of the US labor force now works from home full time. This offers great flexibility for businesses, but new considerations must be made in the face of climate change, and quite possibly, new responsibilities will arise. Given that OSHA places responsibility on employers for their workplace environments, if employers require remote working, they could well become liable for health issues within the home. As a result, employers may need to look into adaptations like air conditioning or other areas in which to work in order to ensure that employers are protected as much within the home as they are within a classic workplace.
All in, American employers must take steps to ensure their employees are fully protected. There is a legal prerogative for this, and an ethical one too. As climate change becomes more relevant, so will the safety measures in working environments; keeping these up to date and in line with the newest climate developments will be crucial.