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Climate hazards UPSC NOTE


  • The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) latest report, ‘Ensuring safety and health at work in a changing climate’, is an urgent call to ensure the future of labour is climate proofed and to address the constantly evolving work environment as the planet warms. 

  • The UN body states that well over a third of the world’s population, are exposed to excessive heat annually, leading to almost 23 million work-related injuries

Emerging hazards

  • The ILO has identified six key impacts of climate change. 

  • They are — excessive heat, solar ultraviolet radiation, extreme weather events, workplace air pollution, vector-borne diseases and agrochemicals

  • These could lead to a range of health issues such as stress, stroke and exhaustion. 

  • The ILO mentions agriculture workers, workers in the construction sector, conservancy workers in cities and those employed in transport and tourism as most affected by climate change. 

  • It is also important to take note of the global rise in gig employment, which is highly heat-susceptible. 

  • Gig workers constitute about 1.5% of India’s total workforce, which is projected to grow to about 4.5% by 2030, according to a Nasscom study. 

  • In the Indian context, all these segments put together suggest that about 80% of the country’s 2023 workforce of 600 million is susceptible to heat-related hazards.

Sectors affected

  • Agriculture is by far the most heat susceptible sector globally, particularly so in the developing world, where informal farm labourers work with little to no weather protection. 

  • The NSSO data of July 2018-June 2019 reveal that almost 90% of Indian farmers own less than two hectares of land, and earn an average monthly income of a little over ₹10,000 with farmers in the bottom three States of Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal earning as low as ₹4,895, ₹5,112, and ₹6,762. 

  • This leaves little room for them to invest in adapting to a warming planet.

  • Agriculture is followed by India’s sprawling Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector that employs about 21% of the country’s workforce, or more than 123 million workers. 

  • The overwhelming informalisation of the sector has meant little to no oversight of worker conditions by State Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) departments, leaving them highly vulnerable to heat hazards. 

  • This sector is followed by the building and construction segment which constitutes about 70 million workers, almost 12% of India’s workforce. 

  • Workers here must cope with the urban heat island effect, as construction is a highly urban-centric economy, with rising growth in cities. 

  • Construction workers are also the most prone to physical injuries and air pollution related health hazards, like asthma, as several Indian cities are among the most polluted globally.

Workplace safety

  • A range of more than 13 central laws in India including, the Factories Act, 1948, the Workmen Compensation Act, 1923, the Building and Other Construction Workers Act, 1996, the Plantations Labour Act, 1951, the Mines Act, 1952 and the Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979, regulate working conditions across several sectors

  • These laws were consolidated and amended in September 2020 under one law — the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020 (OSH Code, 2020).

  • While several unions are critical of the new law for watering down safety and inspection standards, the Union government is yet to officially notify its enforcement. 

  • This has meant that unions and the judiciary continue to rely on the older laws to seek redress and accountability.

Heat hazards

  • When it comes to dealing with occupational heat, the Factories Act broadly defines “ventilation and temperature” and leaves it to the States to decide optimal standards based on specific industries

  • However, these regulations were framed more than five decades back

  • For instance, Maharashtra framed its rules under the law in 1963, while Tamilnadu did so in 1950. 

  • Both these rules mention a maximum wet bulb temperature of 30°C on a shop floor with a height of 1.5 metres and also mention provisioning “adequate air movement of at least 30 meters per minute”

  • But these rules lack a breakdown of thermal comfort based on the level of activity, nor do they mention air conditioning, or other cooling alternatives. 

  • This is not surprising as the rules were framed much before air conditioning became common as a heat coping method. 

  • But in the developing world, air conditioning is still a luxury at homes and a significant expense for businesses. 

  • With a warming climate, the government predicts 50% of Indian homes would have ACs by 2037, but we lack these numbers for businesses, indicating an urgent need to update India’s Factories Act to incorporate technological changes in provisioning thermal comfort at businesses and add more categories of industries based on evolving production processes

Other climate hazards

  • Amendments are also required to address the handling of effluents and byproducts disposal, as they could significantly impact human health based on temperature. 

  • Another significant occupational illness to be addressed in the coming decades would be the possible rise in silicosis cases. 

  • Silicosis is a fatal and incurable pulmonary disease caused by what is commonly called “lung dust”, the fine particulate matter emitted in the mines of coal, precious gems like quartz and diamonds and stone quarries. 

  • India is set to record its highest coal production ever in the financial year 2023-24 and has expanded the number of mines to meet rising power demand, leading to an increase in the probability of silica exposure

  • Often the link between labour productivity, human health and climate change gets scant attention, as the focus remains on economic and infrastructure resilience. 

  • The ILO report points to the need to ensure a universally accepted regulatory framework to climate-proof work and workers.



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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Climate hazards UPSC NOTE
Climate hazards UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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