Climate and workforce health: Start building resiliency now 

Climate and workforce health: Start building resiliency now
April 22, 2024

It seems hard to believe, but we didn’t start blogging about the impact of climate on health until 2021. I live in Florida and have had to evacuate my home several times as hurricanes approached, and many friends in the Houston area suffered severe losses from hurricane Harvey in 2017, but to be honest it has only been over the past few years that the link between extreme climate and health really registered. This past summer drove home the message for a lot of us, when millions of people in the Midwest and East were forced indoors by dangerously polluted air from wildfires in Canada, cities in Texas set records for the most consecutive days over 100 degrees, and fire devastated a community on Maui.

The days of thinking that climate events happen somewhere else, to someone else, are over. In early results from our soon-to-be-released survey on health benefits strategies for 2025, nearly two-thirds of the almost 700 employers responding said their workers have been affected by extreme climate events (or natural disasters) in the past two years. The good news is that around half (53%) have policies or programs in place in preparation for extreme climate events or have plans to implement some in 2025. But that also means nearly half are not doing anything to plan for climate events and support the resiliency of their most important asset – their employees.

Changing climate conditions call for a change in mindset. Take heat, for example. While heat stroke is not a new diagnosis, the geographic reach of hotter temperatures is slowly spreading. As it moves further north to locations that are not prepared protect workers from higher temperatures, we are seeing a gradual rise in heat-related health conditions and even death.

Extreme climate affects mental health as well as physical health. You’ve probably seen the term eco-anxiety or climate anxiety by now. Although the definition of eco-anxiety varies depending on the source, the important factors behind it are the uncertainty, unpredictability, and uncontrollability of extreme climate. Young people seem to be the most impacted by eco-anxiety, which has been likened to anxiety over nuclear threats felt by baby boomers during the Cold War.

The impact of climate on health is building with each passing year. That is why Mercer has been working with the Health Action Alliance with guidance from the CDC Foundation to stand up the National Commission on Extreme Climate and Workforce Health. We are pleased to announce the release of the Commission’s first piece of research – Climate and Health: The Increasing Risks to Our People-Powered Economy.

Bottom line, businesses need to prepare for the impact of extreme climate because, make no mistake, your workers will be impacted. That preparation includes planning for climate disasters like floods and fires and working to address the less dramatic but very real ways that extreme climate can compromise the health and resiliency of your workforce over time. We are here to help guide you on that journey.

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