IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Impacts of climate change on occupational health and safety


The effects of climate change (CC) are often discussed in terms of its impacts on the environment and the general population. To date, the scientific community has focused very little on its repercussions on occupational health and safety (OHS), yet workers can be affected both directly and indirectly by CC, notably by the heat stress to which they may be exposed and by changes in the ecosystems that form the basis of their economic activities. The general objective of this study was to explore research topics relating to the negative impact of climate change on occupational health and safety. More specifically, the goals were to (1) provide an overview of (conceptual framework for) the links between CC and its potentially adverse effects on OHS in Québec, (2) plan and implement a working and consultation procedure promoting national and international dialogue and reflection, and (3) identify the priority research topics pertinent to Québec, in terms of knowledge needs.
First, a review of the literature published between 2005 and 2010 was performed to identify the main links between CC and OHS in Québec. This knowledge review highlighted five categories of hazards that could potentially have direct or indirect impacts on OHS in Québec: heat waves, air pollutants, ultraviolet radiation, extreme weather events, and communicable vector-borne and zoonotic diseases. Another five conditions that could lead to changes in the work environment and have negative impacts on OHS in Québec were also identified: changes in agricultural and animal husbandry methods, changes in the fishing industry, disturbances of the forest ecosystem, degradation of the built environment, and the emergence of new “green” industries.
A consultation process was then initiated by forming a working group made up of national and international experts and Québec stakeholders from the following economic activity sectors: agriculture, construction, forestry, mining, municipal services, transportation, fishing, wind power research, and public health. At two workshops held in Montréal, this working group first verified the credibility and completeness of the information retrieved from the literature review and then helped identify research topics.
Lastly, the priority research topics were determined by means of two rounds of consultation with members of both the working group and the research team, using the Delphi method. This iterative consultation procedure resulted in a consensus on 12 priority research topics pertinent to Québec. These topics were in turn categorized according to three major research orientations: the acquisition of knowledge on hazards and target populations, epidemiological surveillance, and the development of adaptation measures.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
Research Project: 2010-0004
Research Field: Special Projects
Online since: May 02, 2012
Format: Text