Heat stress costs Australia ‘$6.9 billion a year’


Research by Dr Kerstin Zander has estimated the costs of heat stress

Research by Dr Kerstin Zander has estimated the costs of heat stress

The impact of heat stress on productivity in the workplace throughout Australia is costing the economy billions of dollars each year, with research suggesting office workers are also affected.

The research published in the journal “Nature Climate Change” today is the first to examine the economic costs of heat stress in Australia.

Lead researcher Dr Kerstin Zander from the Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University said the study indicated that heat stress related reductions in workplace productivity were as high as for many chronic diseases.

“Climate change has a significant impact on labour productivity, particularly in Australia where people experience extreme heat, but few studies have estimated its economic cost,” Dr Zander said.

The research team conducted Australia-wide online surveys in March and October 2014 asking participants questions associated with work-related stress and physical exertion. Participants were also asked how much they had been affected by heat stress, particularly its impact on their work.

“Using data obtained from the survey, we have estimated the annual costs at AUD$728 per person across a representative sample of 1726 employed Australians,” Dr Zander said, “If we look at the overall working population aged between 18 and 65, the burden to the economy can be estimated as $6.9 billion per year.”

She said the figures represented the minimum national loss because they did not include the effects of heat stress on those carrying out non-paid work or how people were affected in their leisure time.

Co-researcher Professor Stephen Garnett said that assessment of productivity loss resulting from climate change had so far been based on physiological models of heat exposure.

“This study is the first to ask how people feel they are being affected by heat stress providing a valuable insight into the psychological impacts of heat stress,” Professor Garnett said.

“One surprising finding was that heat affected the productivity of office workers as much as it did outdoor workers, with 70 per cent of those surveyed saying heat stress had reduced their productivity at work. It is feeling hot that affects productivity, not necessarily whether they are experiencing unusual conditions.”

He said that education on how to manage heat stress would be key for employers if employee productivity was not to be compromised in the future.

This research was collaborative with VU University Amsterdam Associate Professor Wouter Botzen, CDU Northern Institute Research Fellow Dr Elspeth Oppermann and Lund University Professor Tord Kjellstrom.

To view the journal article visit W: www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2623.html

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