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What to keep in mind this World Day for Health and Safety at Work

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An image of a stop sign submerged in floodwater.]

On World Day for Health and Safety at Work, which this year focuses on exploring the impacts of climate change on occupational safety and health, Laurie Doyle reflects on the growing reality that, while many people are familiar with workplace risks such as trips, fires, or musculoskeletal injuries, rising global temperatures mean that employees are now feeling the effects of climate change more than ever.

For many of you, thinking about potential risks in your workplace isn’t something you’ll do on a daily basis. After all, the idea of a safe and healthy work environment is something we have come to expect.

Just as employers have a legal obligation to provide us with a safe workplace, each of us also has a responsibility to protect ourselves and avoid endangering others, to know our rights and participate in implementing preventative measures. Nowadays, though, there are some less obvious threats to your safety in the workplace.

What are the risks?

Climate change is one such factor and brings with it a host of new challenges that can affect us, both inside and outside of the workplace. Below are some of the ways climate change may impact our working lives.

  1. Higher temperatures.

This year, we experienced the warmest January on record, with an average global surface temperature reaching 13.14°C. Working in extreme heat can cause a variety of physical symptoms, some of which can be deadly. If you get too hot, you can become dizzy, faint, develop heat cramps or even result in heat stroke.

  1. Extreme weather.

One of the most noticeable effects of climate change has been an increase in extreme weather conditions across the UK. Last year, between July and December was the wettest on record, with eight named storms by January 2024. Conversely, in 2022, areas of the UK were affected by wildfires during a heatwave that reached over 40°C. This extreme weather can cause issues for workers, including disrupting commutes or even making travel dangerous.

  1. Air pollution.

Regular exposure to polluted air has been linked to the development of various health conditions, including allergies, respiratory illnesses, and heart disease. In the short term, it can cause coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. While many may be aware of air pollution outside, it can be just as bad indoors.

  1. Mental health.

As climate change progresses, more and more people are experiencing ‘eco-anxiety’, where they worry about the slow, seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change. With employees taking on average 18 days off from work a year because of their mental health, this is a more hidden impact of climate change.

An infographic entitled ‘ Steps we can all take to improve our workplaces and how we work’.

Steps we can all take to improve our workplaces and how we work

  1. Keep warm in winter and cool in summer.

With temperatures in some regions of the UK reaching 40°C during summer, it’s more important than ever to take steps to keep yourself cool. In the office, try to keep blinds drawn to avoid working in direct sunlight and, in locations with climate control or air conditioning, keep the windows closed when a red light is showing to allow this system to work more efficiently. If you don’t have climate control in your office, try to keep the windows open to allow for improved airflow.

In winter, try to keep windows closed and wear appropriate clothing to stay warm. The best way to do this is by layering. You can use a base layer of moisture-wicking material (such as wool or polyester), followed by a warmer layer (such as a sweater), and finally a coat which you can wear during your commute.

  1. Stay hydrated.

In very hot and cold weather, you can become dehydrated in less than an hour, so it’s important to make sure you drink enough fluids throughout the day. An easy way to do this is by aiming to drink a glass of water every hour. Tea and coffee can also count towards your total.

  1. Stay informed.

With extreme weather conditions becoming more common across the UK, try to keep an eye on the forecast if you’re travelling to work. If areas are likely to be flooded or have been damaged during a storm, taking an alternative route can help keep you safe. For more information, please see this page on

  1. Be aware of pollution.

If you’re walking to work, aim to stay on the inside of the pavement, as air pollution levels rise the closer you are to traffic. While driving, keeping your window shut can decrease the amount of pollution coming into your vehicle, especially if you’re in a traffic jam. You can also wear a face mask to reduce how much pollution you breathe in or you could look for a quieter route away from busy roads.

  1. Take steps to support your own wellbeing.

As stress caused by climate change increases, it’s important to take steps to support your own wellbeing. This might include practising mindfulness, where you pay more attention to the present moment to reduce stress and improve your wellbeing. Regular meditation can reduce anxiety, while taking part in creative projects has been found to improve mood.

Taking regular breaks in another method to help reduce stress and improve wellbeing. During these, you can try following the 20-20-20 rule, where every 20 minutes, you look at something at least 20 feet away from you for at least 20 seconds to reduce eye strain.

Spending at least two hours outside each week has also been found to improve wellbeing, so why not go for a walk over your lunch break or try finding somewhere outdoors to eat?

What I do to manage my own work safely

With almost 80% of the UK workforce experiencing workplace stress, it’s important to find ways to support your own wellbeing. I aim to go outside at least once a day, even if it’s for just five minutes, to get away from the rush of everyday life and really focus on the world around me. Creativity also helps; in my free time I write fiction, which gives me something different I can really get immersed in.

To stay safe at work, I make sure that my workspace is set up correctly by using an adjustable chair and following guidance, such as keeping my forearms level with my desk, to help avoid musculoskeletal injuries. I also keep a reusable water bottle with me so that I remember to drink fluids regularly throughout the day and try to take short breaks to rest my eyes or stretch. As a Safety and Health at Work (SHAW) representative, I aim to cascade information and guidance to promote safe working practices across DDTS.

These are just a few of my ideas and suggestions for how to stay safe this World Day for Health and Safety at Work, but even the smallest and simplest things can sometimes have a real impact on your wellbeing.

Why not share your ideas by leaving me a comment below? I’d love to know how you keep your workplace safe, especially in relation to the increasing impact of climate change.

Laurie Doyle is a Senior Workforce Advisor in Defra Digital Data Technology and Security,  specialising in Employee Engagement, Wellbeing and Health & Safety.

World Day for Health and Safety at Work, which takes place each year on 28 April, promotes the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases globally. It is an awareness-raising campaign intended to focus international attention on the magnitude of the problem and on how promoting and creating a safety and health culture can help reduce work-related deaths and injuries.

This year focuses on exploring the impacts of climate change on occupational safety and health. Changing weather patterns have notable impacts on the world of work, particularly affecting workers’ wellbeing.

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