Heat waves costing Australia billions in lost productivity

In the 2013/14 financial year heat stress cost the Australian economy an estimated $6.9 billion through reduced productivity and absenteeism, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change.

The study, which involved researchers from Charles Darwin University, is the first to examine the costs of heat stress in Australia, and found that 70 per cent of respondents were less productive and seven per cent were absent on at least one day due to heat stress. This resulted in losses of AUD$728 a year per person across the representative sample.

The frequency of heat waves has been on the increase in Australia since 1950, and is expected to continue to increase with future climate change. Extreme heat accounts for more deaths than all other natural hazards combined.

“Our results suggest that adaptation measures to reduce heat effects should be adopted widely if severe economic impacts from labour productivity loss are to be avoided if heat waves become as frequent as predicted,” the authors stated.

“There are many ways to manage heat stress at work, including developing regional thresholds for workplace heat management, optimising work patterns to minimise heat stress, encouragement of self-pacing and reductions in heat exposure, improved access to hydration, acclimatisation and fitness programmes and a reorientation of attitudes towards working in the heat among both employees and employers.”

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