IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Ensuring safety and health at work in a changing climate

2nd May, 2024 Environment

Ensuring safety and health at work in a changing climate

Disclaimer: Copyright infringement is not intended.


  • The International Labour Organization’s latest report points to the need to ensure that labor becomes climate-proofed.

The report and its findings:

  • The International Labour Organization’s (ILO) latest report, is titled ‘Ensuring safety and Health at Work in a Changing Climate’

Exposure to heat:

  • The report states that well over a third of the world’s population, is exposed to excessive heat annually, leading to almost 23 million work-related injuries.

Impacts of climate change:

  • The report highlights six key impacts of climate change: excessive heat, solar ultraviolet radiation, extreme weather events, workplace air pollution, vector-borne diseases, and agrochemicals. These could lead to a range of health issues such as stress, stroke, and exhaustion.

Emerging hazards:

  • Global rise in gig employment, which is highly heat-susceptible. Gig workers constitute about 1.5% of India’s total workforce, which is projected to grow to about 4.5% by 2030, according to a Nasscom study.
  • In the Indian context, about 80% of the country’s 2023 workforce of 600 million is susceptible to heat-related hazards.

Which sectors are affected?

  • Agriculture is by far the most heat-susceptible sector globally, particularly so in the developing world, where informal farm laborers work with little to no weather protection. The NSSO data of July 2018-June 2019 reveal that almost 90% of Indian farmers own less than two hectares of land, and earn an average monthly income of a little over ₹10,000 with farmers in the bottom three States of Jharkhand, Odisha, and West Bengal earning as low as ₹4,895, ₹5,112, and ₹6,762.
  • Agriculture is followed by India’s sprawling Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector which employs about 21% of the country’s workforce, or more than 123 million workers. Large informalisation of the sector has led to no oversight of worker conditions by State Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) departments, leaving them highly vulnerable to heat hazards.
  • This sector is followed by the building and construction segment which constitutes about 70 million workers, almost 12% of India’s workforce. Workers here must cope with the urban heat island effect, as construction is a highly urban-centric economy, with rising growth in cities. Construction workers are also the most prone to physical injuries and air pollution-related health hazards, like asthma, as several Indian cities are among the most polluted globally.

Laws Addressing Workplace Safety:

  • India has more than 13 central laws regulating working conditions across various sectors, consolidated under the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions Code, 2020. However, concerns persist regarding the enforcement of safety standards, especially for the majority of MSMEs not registered under these laws.
  • The Indian Factories Act defines a factory as an enterprise with “10 or more” workers, but those registered under this law are less than a quarter of a million based on the latest available data.
  • The Labour Bureau in its 2020 report observes “an increase of 2.48% in the number of total registered factories that is, from 2,22,012 at the beginning of the year to 2,27,510 at the end of the year 2020.” This means the overwhelming majority of India’s 64 million MSMEs are not registered under this law and are therefore outside the purview of governmental inspections.

Issues of occupational safety and health in India :

  • Outdated Regulations: The Factories Act provides broad guidelines on ventilation and temperature, but regulations were established decades ago, lacking consideration for modern cooling technologies like air conditioning.
  • Lack of Specificity: Regulations lack specificity regarding thermal comfort levels based on the intensity of work, failing to address the needs of workers engaged in different levels of activity.
  • Need for Modernization: There's a pressing need to update regulations to incorporate technological advancements for ensuring thermal comfort in workplaces.
  • Global Comparisons: Comparisons with countries like Brazil, which mandate specific temperature limits based on the intensity of work, highlight the need for more precise regulations tailored to different working conditions.
  • Worker Concerns and Corporate Response: Instances of worker demands for hydration amenities highlight the disconnect between worker needs and management perception, with concerns often dismissed as insignificant. Unions face pressure from both management and government bureaucracy, impacting their ability to advocate for worker welfare.

Other Climate Hazards:

  • Amendments are necessary to address hazards such as effluent disposal and silica exposure, which can have severe health consequences. Silicosis cases are on the rise due to increased mining activity, emphasizing the need for stronger regulatory measures and competent inspection mechanisms.


  • The link between labor productivity, human health, and climate change requires greater attention, with an urgent need for a universally accepted regulatory framework to protect workers from climate-related hazards. It's essential to ensure the future of labor is climate-proofed to safeguard worker safety and well-being in an evolving climate.




Q) Examine India's labor sector vulnerabilities to climate-induced hazards, focusing on agriculture, MSMEs, and construction. Assess regulatory shortcomings and advocate for modernization to ensure occupational safety.( 250 words)