Climate Change And Occupational Health And Safety: HR's Vital Role - SACAP
Management & Leadership

Climate change and occupational health and safety: HR’s vital role

Apr 26, 2024 | By Adele Bellinger
Climate change affecting conditions when traveling in to work.
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In the face of accelerating climate change, workplaces worldwide are grappling with unprecedented challenges. From extreme weather events to rising temperatures, the impacts extend far beyond environmental concerns. One critical aspect that often gets overlooked is the intersection of climate change and occupational health and safety (OH&S). As organisations strive to adapt and mitigate risks, HR professionals are at the forefront of safeguarding workplace wellbeing and resilience.

The link between climate change and OH&S is multifaceted. Extreme weather events, such as storms and floods, pose direct risks to workers exposed at their workplaces. Additionally, increased ambient temperatures due to climate change amplify thermal stress, especially in agriculture, construction, and energy production. Moreover, air pollution, another consequence of climate change, exacerbates respiratory illnesses and other health issues among workers.

What HR should consider in risk assessment

When assessing risk, HR must take a comprehensive approach to address climate change-related hazards. This includes evaluating the potential impacts of extreme weather events, assessing heat stress risks, and identifying vulnerabilities in workplace infrastructure. HR can better anticipate and mitigate emerging risks by integrating climate change considerations into existing OH&S frameworks.

Challenges and Solutions for HR

Navigating the complexities of climate change presents numerous challenges for HR professionals. Some key challenges include:

  • limited awareness and understanding of climate-related risks,
  • inadequate resources for implementing mitigation measures,
  • and organisational resistance to change.

However, proactive HR strategies can help overcome these challenges. HR can play a pivotal role in enhancing workplace safety and preparedness by fostering a culture of resilience, investing in employee training and development, and leveraging technology for early warning systems.

Top strategies for HR to address climate change risks

To effectively address climate change risks in the workplace, HR should prioritise the following strategies:

  • Empowering Employees: Encourage employee involvement in climate adaptation efforts and provide training on recognising and responding to environmental hazards.
  • Implementing Workplace Policies: Develop comprehensive policies and procedures for managing heat stress, extreme weather events, and other climate-related risks.
  • Creating a Culture of Sustainability: Promote sustainability initiatives across all levels of the organisation, integrating environmental considerations into decision-making processes.

By proactively addressing climate change risks, HR can protect employees’ wellbeing and contribute to long-term organisational resilience and sustainability. As the effects of climate change continue to unfold, HR professionals must rise to the challenge and embrace their crucial role in shaping the future of work.

Integrating climate change resilience into HR education: A holistic approach

In today’s rapidly changing world, where climate change poses significant challenges to OH&S, it becomes imperative for HR professionals to receive comprehensive education and training in this domain. SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology) recognises the importance of integrating discussions on this topic into its Higher Certificate Human Resource Management and the Bachelor of Applied Social Science majoring in Human Resource Management and Psychology.

Incorporating discussions on climate change and its impacts on workplace safety into the Higher Certificate in Human Resource Management Occupational Health and Safety module provides students with essential knowledge and skills to navigate these emerging challenges. Moreover, such integration in the Bachelor of Applied Social Science HR modules fosters a holistic understanding of HR’s role in safeguarding employee wellbeing and organisational resilience. Concepts of climate adaptation, sustainability, and risk management should also permeate other HR modules. For instance, in recruitment and selection, HR professionals can learn to identify candidates who can adapt to changing environmental conditions. In Training and Development, they can design programmes to equip employees with the skills to mitigate climate-related risks effectively. By weaving climate change resilience into the fabric of HR education, future HR leaders will be better equipped to address the evolving needs of workplaces in a changing climate landscape.

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