Climate is a health and safety issueAngella MacEwen | CUPE Economist

Consequences of climate change include more intense storms and flooding, more frequent forest fires and heat­- ­waves, and increased risk of illnesses carried by mosquitos or ticks. These are concerns for everyone – but for many workers, these represent new or increased health and safety risks on the job.

Many CUPE members work in emergency and security services, health care, municipal services, communications, and social services. Over the past 30 years, these services have faced cutbacks, downsizing, mergers, amalgamations, and privatization. On top of this ongoing austerity, the consequences of climate change have begun to change how we work in different ways, depending on where we live and what we do at work.

Workers restoring power or organizing evacuation and relief efforts after storms are an example of climate change, making our jobs more demanding and dange­rous. Health care workers are seeing increased workloads because of heat­waves and respiratory illnesses caused by air pollution from wildfires and longer pollen seasons. People who normally work outside are affected by heatwaves, air pollution, and the increased risk of insect-borne diseases.

There are several ways workers can address these new or increased risks. We can try to minimize them through our health and safety committees, identi­fying ways to adapt our workplaces. We can also form environment commit­tees to support that adapta­tion and help reduce our carbon footprints. These steps are important – but much more is needed.

There are simple, concrete actions governments can take that will help fight climate change and support improved health and safety for workers. Retrofitting public buildings will create jobs, lower energy use, and deliver healthier work envi­ron­ments. Municipalities will need to invest in infrastructure to address changing weather patterns, including restoring wetlands, building berms to protect against flooding, or upgra­ding water infrastructure. Commuting to work needs to be affordable, safe, and less stressful.

In our cities, public transit should be regular, reliable, and cheap. In rural areas and in between cities, we need to expand public solutions like the Saskatchewan Transportation Company, rather than shutting them down as the current provin­cial government has done.

Workers are on the front lines of the climate crisis. We should be on the front lines building solutions too.