The impact of climate change is increasing global temperatures and generating frequent heat waves. These are starting to have an impact on business operations. Workers, particularly those working outdoors and in the service industry, are exposed to extreme conditions. “Our projections indicate that we can expect a lot more heatwaves in the future due to climate change. The climatological data, as well as mentions in the media, indicate a lot more heatwaves having been reported in South Africa alone, than what is reported by [emergency events database] EM-DAT,” says Dr Mary Jane Bopape, chief scientist at the SA Weather Service
Why is it important?
There is a growing backlash against companies that do not have adequate heat safety measures in place. Burger King employees in Lincoln, Nebraska quit after working in the kitchen with no air conditioning for weeks. The temperature reached 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) at one point. One employee ended up in hospital for dehydration. Heatstroke and heat-related illnesses and accidents are becoming more common as temperatures soar. These could lead to legal action against companies if there are insufficient occupational safety measures in place. A drop in productivity is also a potential consequence of extreme heat and this could affect profits.
What can businesses do about it?
Businesses need to assess whether their employees are being exposed to excessive heat and institute protective measures. This includes training workers and supervisors in all aspects of heat impact prevention. The notion of changing work hours to escape the heat is catching on. Britain’s nature and historical preservation organisation, the National Trust, is thinking of giving its staff siesta-style working hours due to climate change-related extreme temperatures. Cooling systems that are not reliant on air conditioning are also being invented. Scientists at Purdue University in the US produced the whitest paint ever created which is expected to reflect 98.1% of sunlight. According to the researchers, coating buildings with this paint may one day cool them off enough to reduce the need for air conditioning. Researchers at a Boston university have invented a way to cool buildings using a sustainable material called “cooling paper“.
By Faeeza Khan
Image credit: Annie Spratt