Addressing the Effects of High Levels of Heat on Outdoor Workers in the United States
Presently, climate change is becoming harmful to human health and as a result, there are new kinds of health problems that people are facing. There are certain groups of people that are at a higher risk, and these groups are children, the elderly, pregnant women, the economically disadvantaged persons, people that work outdoors for longer periods, and people suffering from chronic illnesses. In this regard, experts not only in the United States but also across the globe now consider climate change as a serious threat to human health (Hathaway and Maibach, 2018). Some of the questions that Hathaway and Maibach (2018) raise are- do people generally, know that climate change is now a threat to health? How are people reacting to the information they get about climate change? This paper focuses on the impacts of climate change on people that work outdoor for longer periods and how policy-based interventions can be used to address this health issue.
The Policy Health Issue
The Impacts of Extreme Heat from the Sun on People that Work Outdoors all Day
Levy and Patz (2015) begin by exploring the working conditions of most people that work outdoors. Most outdoor jobs employ many people and pay them daily based on the amount of work they have done at the end of each day. For these people to earn more they need to work faster and as the day progresses, the heat from the sun becomes stronger causing the laborers to strain even more. To manage the stress, laborers drink a lot of water and choose to take some short-term rests in between the working hours. Nevertheless, as the heat from the sun becomes stronger, the laborers feel dizzy but continue struggling to keep up with the pace of work. At midday, some laborers faint and others become sick and their doctors recommend them to take some days off to allow the bodies to recover. To address this issue, Levy and Patz (2015) inform that the department of occupational health and safety directed employers to create a shade where workers would rest in between working hours and allow them to have some adequate time to rest. In addition, to provide them with cool drinking water and not to pay the workers on a piecework basis especially on hot days.
Increasing hot temperatures and levels of heat are the common outcome of climate change and when they are combined with air movement, heat radiation, humidity, and air temperatures the result is a hazard to environmental health. In such situations, people exposed to strong heat for long periods develop heat exhaustion and heat rash, become dehydrated, can faint, or have a stroke. For people suffering from chronic diseases, their health status can also worsen (Levy and Patz, 2015).
Levy, Wegman, Sokas, and McStowe (2017) point out that the effects of climate change are likely to worsen by becoming more severe and continuing to affect more parts of the world. Some countries such as France, India, Europe, and others have already lost many people because of heat-related health problems. Thus, with time, jobs that require people to work outdoors for long periods will be considered as a health threat and even other outdoor events such as athletics will be feared. On this basis, policy-based interventions are needed to sustain the employment opportunities and economic activities that the society needs for its growth (Levy et al., 2017).
Suggestions to address the Health Issue
Policymakers need to recognize that laborers that work outdoor all day long are usually the first ones to experience the harsh impacts of climate change. Moreover, these laborers are those that have limited options of preventing or managing the stress that the high levels heat conditions create. Due to increasing rates of unemployment, many more people are likely to be hired as outdoor workers performing jobs that require intensive physical inputs. Because of this, a country such as the United States is likely to lose a larger number of outdoor workers or have an increasing number of cases involving workplace injuries. In this regard, policymakers need to first focus on how the existing occupational health and safety policy can be improved to respond to the harsh effects of climate change on outdoor workers (Kiefer, Rodriguez-Guzman, Watson, de Joode, Mergler, and de Silva, 2016).
The changes needed on the occupational health and safety policy needs to consider outdoor workers that work in the agricultural, fishing, construction, transport, emergency responding, firefighters, paramedics, and other industries (Keifer et al., 2016). Musco (2016) and Keifer et al. (2016) agree that one thing that the policy needs to ensure is that all workers become aware of the health hazards resulting from long exposure to high levels of heat, and the best response to employ. In addition, the policy needs to ensure that workers are aware of some of the dangerous human responses to the harsh effects of climatic change. The employers also need to be educated about the effects of the climatic change on workers and how the working conditions and terms of employment can be changed in response to the health hazards (Keifer et al., 2016). Table 1 below shows the stakeholders to be involved in the policy change
|Doctors||Take note of the health hazards and give guidance on how to protect and sustain good health when working outdoors all day long|
|Nurses||To provide health education to the government/policymakers, employers, and workers|
|The metrological department||To forecast weather conditions and inform the health industry that advocates for policy changes.|
|The government||To create/change the current policy that regulates the actions of the employers|
|Employers||To comply with the law in the best interest of the workers|
|Outdoor workers||To be informed and to take up jobs that are considerate for their health|
Stakeholders to be involved in the policy change (Musco, 2016 and Keifer et al., 2016)
The Impact of Policy Development on the Health Care Delivery System
According to WHO (2019) and Curtis, Fair, Wistow, Val, and Oven (2017), the healthcare system needs to be improved to enable it to address the new health problems that exposure to high levels of heat create. To do this, the healthcare industry especially the nursing profession needs to take leadership in advocating for changes in the existing policies. The industry also needs to make use of information and communication technologies to collect relevant data on time especially from the metrological department to educate, warn the vulnerable populations on time and advice them what to do. Ensure that adequate resources have been allocated to areas where the vulnerable populations are. For example, there needs to be trained first aiders present at worksites and facilities for workers to rest to help them with the recovery process.
Mostly, people especially those that work outdoor do not know that the increasing levels of heat are becoming a threat to their lives and only taking the right preventative measures can help them sustain their good health. Employers also are not aware of the impacts of the working conditions and terms of employment influence the effects of high levels of heat on outdoor workers. The occupational safety and health policy needs to be changed to have the ability to engage the government, the healthcare industry, the metrological department, the employers and the workers on building an effective preventative care plan. The plan is one that will work for the best interests of the workers’ health.
Curtis, S., Fair, A., Wistow, J., Val, D. V., and Oven, K. (2017). Impact of extreme weather events and climate change for health and social care systems. Environmental Health, 16(128). Retrieved from < https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-017-0324-3>.
Hathaway, J. and Maibach, E. W. (2018). Health implications of climate change: A review of the literature about the perception of the public and health professionals. Current Environmental Health Reports, 5(1), 197-204.
Kiefer, M., Rodriguez-Guzman, J., Watson, J., de Joode, B. W., Mergler, D., and de Silva, A. S. (2016). Worker health and safety and climate change in the Americas: Issues and research needs. Rev Panam Salud Publica., 40(3), 192-197.
Levy, B. S. and Patz, J. (2015). Climate change and public health. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Levy, B. S., Wegman, D. H., Sokas, R. K., and McStowe, H. L. (2017). Occupational and environmental health: Recognizing and preventing disease and injury. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Musco, F. (2016). Counteracting urban heat island effects in a global climate change scenario. New York: Springer.WHO (2019). Strengthening health systems to prepare for climate change. Retrieved from < https://www.who.int/globalchange/resources/vulnerability_adaptation/case_studies/box_13/en/>.
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