Outdoor Workers

Outdoor Workers

What does this indicator measure?

This indicator measures the percent of adults (over 16 years old) who work outdoors. For more information, see: The California Department of Public Health’s California Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (CalBRACE) Outdoor Workers Narrative.

The connection to health

Every worker should be safe from heat-related health impacts and other workplace hazards. Working outdoors increases workers’ exposure to the extreme heat, poor air quality, diseases transmitted by ticks and mosquitos, industrial exposures, and injury. These risks are all exacerbated by climate change. When exposed to extreme and prolonged heat, people experience heat-related illnesses such as heat stress, heat exhaustion, heat stroke (which if not promptly and properly treated can be fatal) and safety lapses leading to injury. High heat can also make pre-existing cardiovascular, respiratory and other conditions worse, and encourage the formation of ozone in polluted areas.138 All workers, including those who work within non-airconditioned buildings, face health risks. Yet workers in construction, agriculture, mining, refining, forestry, and fishing industries are at particular risk of heat-related health impacts. Outdoor work may be especially dangerous for those who are undocumented, do not speak English, or otherwise lack power and control over their working conditions.136 Risks are intensified for workers who are unused to working outdoors or in high-heat conditions. Finally, outdoor workers may be affected by other climate-related impacts such as drought resulting in agricultural losses and unemployment, or first responders fighting wildfires or responding to floods.139

Where to start?

Addressing the health impacts of climate change on outdoor workers requires a range of measures designed to prepare communities and households for extreme heat and to increase resilience.69

Plan for Resilience

Assess Vulnerabilities

Legislation enacted in 2015 (SB 379) requires California jurisdictions to conduct vulnerability assessments and define resiliency goals, policies, and objectives in either the safety element of their General Plan, or by incorporating it in local hazard mitigation planning. Local jurisdictions can reduce the health impacts of extreme heat by using these planning processes to understand likely climate changes and impacts, assess vulnerability, and craft interventions. The State of California has developed the Adaptation Planning Guide, a step-by-step guide for local governments, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) Framework offers guidance for health agencies and others seeking to address the health effects of climate change.

Assessing vulnerability to climate impacts is a particularly important step in resilience planning. While climate change impacts all Californians, some individuals and families are more impacted, and have fewer resources to draw upon to help them adapt. The health impacts of climate change often deepen existing social inequities—magnifying or layering new risks on top of economic, social, environmental, biological, and health disparities. Using the BRACE framework, the California Department of Public Health has produced Climate Change and Health Profile Reports, summarizing health risks and vulnerability by county. They have also published Climate Change and Health Vulnerability Indicators to help local jurisdictions understand climate change and health vulnerability. The Healthy Places Index can also be used to assess underlying social vulnerabilities at the census tract level.

Maximize Health Benefits

Actions designed to improve climate resilience also provide the opportunity to maximize additional health or quality of life benefits that can be achieved in addition to increased resilience. Adaptation measures designed to safeguard outdoor workers offer a number of benefits. For instance, efforts to create heat-resilient workplaces can work in partnership with other efforts to educate, regulate, organize, or otherwise protect workers from occupational health and safety concerns. Urban greening/cooling and weatherization/energy efficiency upgrades can provide job opportunities in communities with high rates of unemployment. Urban greening, green infrastructure, and compact development for healthy communities can also provide opportunities for healthy recreation and transportation and manage wastewater. Local governments should prioritize interventions that minimize risk in communities most likely to be impacted, while maximizing multiple benefits that support healthier community conditions.

Ensure Participation

Resilience efforts should prioritize the participation of community members in each step of the process. This will help ensure that community standards, expectations and requirements are effectively addressed, while building buy-in and support for resilience measures, and improving community capacity to envision and address climate impacts. For more information, see: The California Department of Public Health’s Climate Action for Health, and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network’s Equitable, Community Driven Climate Preparedness Planning.

Policy Actions

In the short term, jurisdictions with a high percentage of outdoor workers should make sure they are Getting Ready for heat events, by reviewing and improving emergency response plans and systems to warn and protect residents and workers during extreme heat events. When heat events strike, effective and targeted Emergency Response systems should be in place that place special emphasis on protecting outdoor workers. Jurisdictions can also help ensure that workers have Heat Resilient Workplaces with shade, water, and health-protective work practices.

In the longer term, local governments--especially in urban or suburban areas--can create Cool Communities by prioritizing cool infrastructure and recreation facilitates, Green Communities that provide shade and manage storm water, and Smart Growth strategies to further mitigate the heat-island effect. They can also help foster Community Power and Connection which has been shown to reduce social vulnerability and the health impacts of climate events.