The heat stress could lead to the loss of 80 million full-time jobs by 2030 globally— that is equivalent to $2.4 trillion. For businesses, the time has come to understand the impact of heat waves and be fully prepared to execute their prevention strategies.

A man holding a fan in a hot weather.
Image by Freepik

It was not long ago that summer was all about looking forward to warmer weather with exciting holiday plans. Things have been different in the last few years. It may not be that obvious at first glance, but businesses are considered vulnerable to the increasing temperature that is initiating heat waves.

For them, disregarding the potential risks could lead to costly consequences, including decreased morale, reduced productivity, and the possibility of significant harm to employees.

Read: Sustainability jobs: 42 million renewable energy jobs by 2050

Deadly heat wave

Many countries have had first-hand experience with heatwave impacts, such as the disruption of transport systems and the distressed agricultural sector due to severe drought. The credit goes to global warming. The change in global average temperature since the 1880s is shown in Figure 1. The year 2016 was recorded as the hottest so far, with the year 2022 closely following behind.

Change in global average temperature annually.
Figure 1: Change in global average temperature annually. (Source)

In Europe, if temperatures soar beyond 35°C, both outdoor and indoor office workers collectively struggle with heat exhaustion. In sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, the situation is far more serious. Here, increasing temperatures are compelling individuals to endure extensive periods of severe heat stress throughout a significant portion of the year.

Another distressing example is the tragic death toll of over 6,500 migrant workers from South Asia since Qatar secured the World Cup hosting rights. Regrettably, a significant portion of these deaths can be attributed to heat-related causes

While the world enjoyed the glory of the World Cup in 2022, the loss of lives, who were forced to work in temperatures exceeding 45°C was almost forgotten.

Heat-related deaths in 2022 in some of the countries with the highest reached temperatures are shown in Figure 2.

Heat-related deaths in 2022 in different countries, such as India, Pakistan, Japan, the U.S., Spain, Portugal, Italy, the UK and Germany. Japan's figure is the annual average and the U.S. is estimated. The numbers from India, Pakistan and Japan are heatstroke. The numbers in other countries are heat-related deaths.
Figure 2: Heat-related deaths in 2022 in different countries, such as India, Pakistan, Japan, the U.S., Spain, Portugal, Italy, the UK and Germany. Japan’s figure is the annual average and the U.S. is estimated. The numbers from India, Pakistan and Japan are heatstroke. The numbers in other countries are heat-related deaths.

Read: Heat wave grips Europe: Climate crisis intensifies

Hot summer means less productivity

The International Labour Organisation (ILO)’s study projected that approximately 2.2% of the overall global working hours could be affected due to severe heat conditions by the end of this decade

Catherine Saget, the primary author of the ILO report explained that even at temperatures around 24-25°C, there’s a noticeable decline in both productivity and work pace. In scenarios where the temperature rises to 35°C, workers in a physically demanding task, such as agriculture or construction experience a reduction of 30 minutes in productivity per hour.

However, indoor staff should get equal attention because the intensity of the heat impact depends upon the individual. A study published in June 2023 on the effects of temperature on productivity observed the adverse impacts of increased temperatures on economic growth, affecting both low and high-income countries as well as individual performance.

Dr. Gaurab Basu, director of education and policy, at Harvard Chan C-change, commented on BBC that when subjected to extreme heat, our body enters a state of emergency where blood flow and oxygenation are redirected from vital organs that are very crucial for regular functioning.

In the U.S., the Biden administration unveiled its intention in 2021 for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to formulate the rules to shield workers from heat exposure. However, despite the passing of two years, the agency has yet to publish a draft.

Direct heat deaths by industry reported by OSHA in the U.S. between 2017-2022.
Figure 3: Direct heat deaths by industry reported by OSHA in the U.S. between 2017-2022. (Source)

OSHA reported the direct heat deaths in the U.S. from 2017-2022 in Figure 3. However, more than 70,000 workers were seriously injured from heat stress from 1992 to 2017. The country suffers a yearly expense of $100 billion due to diminished productivity resulting from increased temperatures. This figure is anticipated to double by the year 2030 and reach $500 billion annually by the year 2050.

In the UK and EU, businesses lose almost $614 million in annual sales for every additional degree of excessive temperature above a critical level of about 25°C.

In India, there is a noticeable decline in productivity, with a reduction of up to 4% for each degree increase in temperature beyond 27°C.

How to work in a heat wave?

  • Ease up on the dress code: in cases where employees are obligated to wear substantial uniforms, it might be wise to temporarily modify this policy by allowing switching to more comfortable clothes.

  • Explore the flexible working options: consider adjusting employees’ schedules to when it’s not too hot. If possible, allow work from home as it has become normal since COVID-19.

  • Conduct a thorough risk assessment and implement measures: perform a comprehensive evaluation of potential hazards covering several key factors, such as ambient temperature, humidity levels, and the extent to which employees are exposed to direct heat. The assessment requires special attention to elderly staff members or those with underlying medical conditions, as they might encounter greater challenges working in high temperatures.

  • Regular communication with the staffs: engage your staff during risk assessment processes, and inquire if anyone has expressed discomfort due to excessively high or dry air regularly. Set up a proper office, where staff can control the opening and closing of workplace windows for the circulation of hot air.

  • Outdoor employees are the most vulnerable: arrange workstations in areas not directly exposed to sun and heat sources. Provide regular training about heat-induced stress and the necessary actions to take if someone experiences its effects.

  • Other general stuff, such as providing drinking water throughout the day, and encouraging the use of sunblock should be advised to all staff regardless of where they are working.

One of the quick fixes in the office is to install air conditioning but many small and medium businesses have trouble affording it because it is expected to cost about $183 per hour.

The necessary changes are likely to come with a substantial price tag. However, if we are committed to preventing harm to the workers and ultimately the businesses, we must be prepared to bear that expense.


  • The global climate crisis could result in the loss of around 80 million full-time jobs by 2030 due to heat stress.

  • Heatwaves have led to disruptions in various sectors such as transportation, agriculture, and infrastructure, impacting business performance.

  • While outdoor sectors like agriculture and construction face significant susceptibility to heat stress, even indoor workers can experience reduced productivity due to extreme heat.

  • The ILO study projects a potential global reduction of 2.2% in working hours due to severe heat by the end of the decade.

  • Despite financial implications, ensuring worker safety remains a priority in combating heat-related challenges.

3 responses to “Deadly heat wave shrinks work efficiency”

  1. Alexandria ‘Alex’ Masiak Avatar
    Alexandria ‘Alex’ Masiak

    A modern economy circulating products and services throughout the world doesn’t need money or sovereign countries (national currencies) to be successful. Today, we’ve the scientific knowledge and technological skills to convert our natural and artificial resources into daily life-sustaining deliverables: food, housing, education, healthcare, infrastructure, and employment demands. What we lack is unity, a global framework built upon fair and humane laws and safe and healthy industrial practices. I hypothesize that humanity can end poverty and reduce pollution by abandoning wealth and property rights, and instead adopt and implement an advanced resource management system that can provide “universal protections for all”. Replacing customary political competition altogether, this type of approach, which I named facts-based representation, allows us a better way to govern ourselves and our communities, basing policy and decision making on the latest information, in turn improving the everyday outcomes impacting our personal and professional lives.


  2. Of course heat disrupts productivity, it why they have siesta in hot countries. Nothing new about that news.

    Did you quantify the base temperature stations? Exposing they’ve been moved to hots spots. That they are now taking temperatures at different heights, again, hot spots.

    No I don’t doubt the place has become filthy. But we demonise and blame the wrong people constantly.

    We have so many industried that are superfluous, that pump out pollution that’s unnecessary.

    Those in the very niche upper wealth bracket are those driving those industries.

    I spent a number of years researching nano pollutants. Something that a decade on, is still rarely talked about. Far more dangerous than an exhaust.

    Dis we think about the aluminum borohydride added to aviation files for that extra boost? This is burnt off as aluminum oxide and a Neurotoxin rains down on us in nano form. As learned as you are, I don’t need to expound nanoparticulates ability to seep through skin as if it was no barrier. So on breathing, straight to the brain, the body has no defence.

    Climates change, is it man made? Well I guess so some is when you think of NASA dumping lithium in the sky to chase clouds across the globe. They’ve polluted everything with this. Studies on fish soon after showed them lethargic and uninterested.

    Let’s really take a good hard look at pollution before we decide if it is us and who really is to blame.

    So much evidence points to the figures being manipulated in favour of demonising us common folk rather than the root cause.

  3. I can’t see how to edit my typos… You’ll have to excuse me a d the fibro brain on top today.

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