Climate change is here. As you update your company’s risk assessment to include climate change, you probably already include the risks to your company’s physical assets. Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, blizzards, drought and heat spells can all threaten your physical assets in obvious ways. A hidden risk, however, lurks in these climate and weather-related disasters – the threat to employee safety because of:
- Poor air quality
- Contaminated food, water and water debris from flooding
- Disease carrying pests like ticks, mosquitoes and rodents
- Stress from coping with instability such as displacement
- Appearance of new infectious agents and expanding ranges for old ones
When you consider all the risks from climate change, you might ask how your enterprise would respond if:
- employees were suddenly experiencing acute respiratory distress?
- more employees get chronic lung disease due to poor air, increasing healthcare costs and reducing productivity?
- water in your buildings and the surrounding area became unsafe to drink?
- rising sea levels or extreme weather forced you to relocate employees?
- employees were unable to come to work because of flooding or storms?
- an outbreak of West Nile virus from mosquitoes threatened workers in one facility?
The extent to which these biorisks impact your operations will depend on your ability to plan and execute mitigation strategies. To be effective, you’ll need trustworthy intelligence from the beginning and advance warning to indicate when the situation has changed.
Why is climate change important now?
As a leader in enterprise security, you know that catastrophic weather events are increasing in number, severity and cost. Already this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that seven weather events with losses exceeding $1 billion each have already hit the United States.
From 1980 to 2022, the annual average of events of that magnitude was 8.1 events, and in the most recent five years, the annual average was 18 events. If events continue at the pace set in the first four months of 2023, we could expect as many as 21 weather-related disasters this year. You need to prepare before a crisis hits.
As you consider the risk weather poses to your assets in the U.S. and around the world, are you including biorisk in your calculations?
Four keys to protecting your employees from hidden dangers
In order to plan for threats to employee safety, you will need to know more about problems that can arise from changing weather patterns. Planning for poor air quality, extreme heat, individual resilience and mental health concerns are key to helping employees cope with climate change.
Respiratory symptoms result from poor air quality
Rates of respiratory problems increase when air quality is poor. Smoke from wildfires and long-term air pollution can both cause breathing problems, even in healthy adults. People with existing conditions, such as asthma and other chronic respiratory conditions, will be particularly at risk. Employees who work outdoors, are currently pregnant or have young children at home will also be disproportionately impacted. Anyone who faces financial barriers to air conditioning and air filtering options may also face increased risks.
Rising temperatures affect more than comfort
Higher temperatures put your workforce at risk for heat-related illness, such as heat stroke, as well as cardiovascular problems. The effects on individuals, however, are not the only heat-related issues we face. With higher temperatures, agricultural crops, like bananas, rice, cocoa and coffee, may no longer thrive where they’ve been planted for generations, and maintaining food quality and availability is becoming an increasingly serious issue.
In addition, rising temperatures will impact employee success, regardless of the kind of work your employees do. If any part of your workforce works outdoors, you’ll need to plan to avoid heat-related complications. And if any of your employees work in temperature-controlled environments, you’ll need to plan for air conditioning failure or power outages. High temperatures also impact transit to and from work.
All reactions are not the same
Climate change will not necessarily impact all of your team members in the same way. A person’s vulnerability to the risks of climate change generally depends on three key factors:
- Exposure – It matters how long people spend time in damaging environments and what they do there.
- Sensitivity – Some people are more sensitive than others to climate hazards due to factors like age and health conditions. For example, children and adults with asthma are particularly sensitive to air pollutants and wildfire smoke.
- Adaptability – A person’s ability to adapt may depend upon their income, age, living situation, fitness, access to healthcare and other factors.
Understanding that each employee faces unique risks is the key to planning for individual reactions.
Don’t forget mental health dangers
When you stop and reflect on the gravity of the climate change crisis, things can feel pretty bleak. When homes are destroyed, diseases spread and day-to-day life is impacted by climate-related disasters, the risks to your team’s mental health will increase.
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that health crises and the resulting mental health impacts can be devastating to any workforce. Depression and anxiety can significantly impair daily living skills and job performance. Offering a free yoga session or massage voucher to your employees is far from enough. Your business needs to develop a robust plan to address mental health crises arising from climate change, ensuring regular access to mental health professionals for employees.
How you can include biorisk in your mitigation strategies
As the earth warms, biorisks will change and new ones will develop, but you don’t have to be blindsided by weather disasters. To create effective plans, you’ll need trustworthy intelligence about biorisks at your individual locations and advance warning when their situations change.
The Public Health Company provides near-real-time intelligence through the PHC Pharos platform. Its analysis is derived from thousands of data points gathered regularly from multiple sources. Our experts provide enhanced context and insight to help you understand the biorisks you face.
Armed with this information, you can make timely, informed decisions to protect employees and assets as you prepare to mitigate risks. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.