Heat stress causes substantial labour productivity loss in Australia

Abstract

Heat stress at the workplace is an occupational health hazard that reduces labour productivity1. Assessment of productivity loss resulting from climate change has so far been based on physiological models of heat exposure1. These models suggest productivity may decrease by 11–27% by 2080 in hot regions such as Asia and the Caribbean2, and globally by up to 20% in hot months by 20503. Using an approach derived from health economics, we describe self-reported estimates of work absenteeism and reductions in work performance caused by heat in Australia during 2013/2014. We found that the annual costs were US$655 per person across a representative sample of 1,726 employed Australians. This represents an annual economic burden of around US$6.2 billion (95% CI: 5.2–7.3 billion) for the Australian workforce. This amounts to 0.33 to 0.47% of Australia’s GDP. Although this was a period when many Australians experienced what is at present considered exceptional heat4, our results suggest that adaptation measures to reduce heat effects should be adopted widely if severe economic impacts from labour productivity loss are to be avoided if heat waves become as frequent as predicted.

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Figure 1: Differences in annual labour productivity loss (log) for women and men in relation to the proportion of time working outside and the degree of physical exertion they experience while working.

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Acknowledgements

The project was funded from two internal research grants from the Faculty of Law, Education, Business and Arts (LEBA) at Charles Darwin University.

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K.K.Z., E.O. and S.T.G. designed the survey. K.K.Z. analysed the data and wrote the first version of the manuscript with the help of S.T.G. W.J.W.B. helped interpret the data and results and provided technical and conceptual advice. T.K. provided conceptual advice. All authors contributed to improving and revising the paper.

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Correspondence to Kerstin K. Zander.

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Zander, K., Botzen, W., Oppermann, E. et al. Heat stress causes substantial labour productivity loss in Australia. Nature Clim Change 5, 647–651 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2623

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