June 6, 2024 / Larry Sloan

Helping Business Leaders Meet the Challenges of Climate Change

Image Credit: Getty Images / Slexp880

In April, I was pleased to receive an invitation to join the newly formed National Commission on Climate and Workforce Health. Founded to help employers assess threats to human health and business performance posed by climate change, the Commission is led by a prestigious group of experts across the health, business, academic, and policy areas, including former OSHA administrator David Michaels, Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, Senator Bill Frist of Maryland, and Dr. Judy Monroe, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.

The Commission's formation was accompanied by the release of an inaugural report on the implications of climate change for worker health and business performance. Titled "The Increasing Risks to Our People-Powered Economy," the report revealed sobering facts about the business community's lack of preparedness for a world where extreme climate conditions are resulting in new hazards at workplaces. As discussed in the report, climate-related health costs in the United States amount to more than $800 billion every year. Worldwide, annual productivity losses resulting from climate change are equivalent to an estimated 295 billion work hours. More than two-fifths of workers experience persistent eco-anxiety, a condition that contributes to a loss of focus and motivation. And yet, despite these alarming findings, only 17 percent of CEOs have implemented strategies to protect employees from climate-related health risks.

To get the business community up to speed, the Commission has five main goals:

  • educate and engage employers through ongoing educational programs for business leaders
  • quantify the risk of climate change by developing a financial projection tool to help employers forecast health-related costs
  • identify recommended actions employers can take to address the risks of climate change
  • foster collaborative networks of business leaders and experts
  • promote innovative solutions that mitigate the health impacts of climate change and establish a marketplace for climate/health solutions

The goals of the Commission are in obvious accordance with those of AIHA. As part of my role as Commissioner, I've begun talking about various AIHA resources of interest to the initiative, such as our "Climate Change Adaptation for the OEHS Professional" technical framework, our forthcoming heat stress app, and other activities managed by the Thermal Stress Working Group (TSWG). In addition, I have agreed to help the Commission source speakers for their webinars and review documents that inform employees and employers on heat stress risk. An upcoming webinar sponsored by the Commission will include a presentation by Kyle Hubregtse, a member of the TSWG who is leading the development of the heat stress app.

An article in this month's Synergist explains the biological, chemical, physical, and psychological effects of climate change. Biological hazards exacerbated by climate change include Lyme disease, which is spreading to new areas of the country as they become more hospitable to the ticks that carry it, and coccidioidomycosis (Valley fever), whose prevalence is growing as more workers are exposed to dusty conditions in the expanding drylands where the Coccidioides fungus lives. With people spending more time indoors, indoor air quality is becoming even more important to health. The threats from severe weather are increasing, while new research is characterizing the linkage between climate change and mental health.

AIHA stands ready to help OEHS professionals as these challenges account for an ever-increasing share of their responsibilities. I'm hopeful that my role on the Commission can help bring our members' expertise to new audiences.

Larry Sloan

Larry Sloan is AIHA’s CEO.


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