Heat-Related Work Injuries Are Counted Too Few, According to Study


Extreme heat causes more workplace injuries than official records, and new research shows that these injuries are concentrated among the poorest workers, according to the latest evidence on how climate change is worsening inequality.

Data shows that warmer days not only mean more cases of heatstroke, but also injuries from falls, crashes, or misuse of machinery, leading to an additional 20,000 workplace injuries each year in California alone. Data show that heat makes it harder to concentrate, increasing workplace injuries.

“Most people still associate climate risk with sea level rise, hurricanes and wildfires,” said R. Jisung Park, professor of public policy at the University of California, Los Angeles and lead author of the study. “Heat immediately begins to seep into consciousness as something harmful.”

The findings follow record-breaking heat waves in the western United States and British Columbia in recent weeks. 800 people, made forest fires are worse, triggered power outages and even killed hundreds of millions of marine animals.

But the new data, released in Thursday’s congressional testimony, highlight how heat waves can harm people in unexpected ways.

For example, extreme heat is not just a threat. outdoor workersbut also those who work indoors in places such as manufacturing plants and warehouses. These additional injuries mean lost wages and higher medical bills for low-income workers in a wide range of industries, widening the pay gap as temperatures rise.

To understand the link between extreme heat and worker injuries, Dr. Park, along with his co-authors Nora Pankratz and A. Patrick Behrer, has collected more than 11 million databases of California workers’ compensation injury reports from 2001 to 2018. injuries showing the date and zip code for each.

The authors combined these reports with high temperatures for each day and location. They then looked at whether and how much the number of injuries increased on days with higher temperatures.

This strategy offers a new way of estimating the number of heat-related injuries, rather than relying solely on the cause of injury listed in workers’ compensation injury reports. These reports showed an average of about 850 injuries per year that were officially classified as caused by extreme heat, but new data shows the number is very low.

The researchers found that on days when the temperature was between 85 degrees and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of the official cause, the overall risk of workplace injuries was 5 to 7 percent higher than on days when the temperatures were in the 60s. When the temperature rose above 100 degrees, the overall risk of injury was 10 to 15 percent greater.

This points to the large number of heat-related injuries listed in other categories. The researchers found that extreme heat can cause about 20,000 extra injuries or 360,000 extra injuries per year during the 18-year period they studied.

“This is roughly eleven times greater than workplace concussions and at least nineteen times the annual workplace injuries from workers’ compensation microdata records caused by extreme temperatures,” the authors wrote.

The findings will be made public on Monday as a working paper. Dr. Park previewed her findings during a hearing by the House Elections Committee on the Climate Crisis on Thursday.

Additional workplace injury risks from high temperatures are not spread evenly. The researchers found that the lowest-paid 20 percent of workers suffered five times more heat-related injuries than the highest-paid 20 percent workers.

Dr. Park said this difference may reflect the type of work done by low-wage workers compared to their higher-paid counterparts. For example, high temperatures in manufacturing increase injuries by about 10 percent and for those working in wholesale trade jobs by 15 percent. People in these industries are more likely to be exposed to dangerous conditions in the first place, so the difficulty in concentrating can turn into hurt.

By comparison, those working in finance, insurance or healthcare did not see a strong link between temperatures and injuries. This may reflect that air conditioning is more common in these workplaces, and there are also no dangers: If someone sitting at a desk all day has trouble concentrating because of the heat, “there are no real safety implications,” says Dr. Park said.

The difference in heat-related injuries between low-paid and high-paid workers may also reflect living conditions.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego this week found that low-income neighborhoods around the United States significantly warmer than in the more affluent neighborhoods in the summer. Dr. Park said the susceptibility of low-income workers to heat-related injuries may be due to a lack of air conditioning and higher temperatures at home.

Income isn’t the only way heat-related injuries are unevenly distributed among American workers. The data show that hot days are three times more dangerous for men than women, perhaps because men are more likely to work in places with dangerous conditions. And for workers in their 20s and 30s, the added risk from higher temperatures is nearly twice that for workers in their 50s and 60s.

The findings also contain some good news.

Researchers found that the link between extreme heat and workplace injuries weakened after 2005. This is also the year California began asking employers to take steps to protect workers from the severe heat, such as providing outdoor workers with water, shade, and rest breaks on days hotter than 95 degrees.

While this doesn’t prove that California rules lead to reductions in heat-related injuries, it does raise the possibility that employers and governments can reduce the impact of extreme heat on worker safety, the authors said.

But that’s all. After 2005, the link between temperature and injuries did not disappear – it decreased by about a third.

A message for lawmakers, said Dr. The park is that governments must do more to reduce emissions of planet-warming gases like carbon dioxide to curb future temperature rises. But in the meantime, he said, workers need more protection from the effects of high temperatures.

Dr. “We shouldn’t just engage in aggressive climate mitigation, that is, moving away from fossil fuels,” Park told the committee on Thursday. “Policymakers may also want to think proactively about climate adaptation.”


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