Comité SST

Climate change and OHS: things are going to heat up!

Climate change and OHS: things are going to heat up!

Over the years, environmental issues have become a growing public concern. The impacts of climate change, particularly on people, are now recognized and documented. Moreover, since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body, was founded in 1988, six assessment reports have been produced confirming climate change and the IPCC has issued several warnings.

Is Quebec ready to face climate change when it comes to occupational health and safety? What concrete actions should it take and what foreseeable, potential effects could they have on healthcare professionals?

In 2006, following discussions about the environment and which measures to take to fight global warming, the Quebec government adopted the Sustainable Development Act. The intention behind this law was to adopt a management framework in order to exercise its powers and responsibilities in the pursuit of sustainable development. The law stipulates that, as part of its actions, the administration take into account people’s “health and quality of life” as well as the concept of “prevention,” which specifies that in “the presence of a known risk, preventive, mitigating and corrective actions must be taken, with priority given to actions at the source.”

The public health risk factors related to climate change are known, in large part, thanks to the IPCC’s work, as well as to the many studies by the Institut national de santé publique (INSPQ). There are countless examples of risk factors, including cancer, burns, allergies and ageing due to increased UV exposure, respiratory problems related to rising temperatures and increased exposure to pollen.

So, what is the impact on healthcare professionals’ occupational health and safety? Well, there’s the work overload and psychological distress that comes with extreme weather fluctuations and events, as well as a need for ongoing training for determining complex cases related to vector-borne diseases.

In Quebec’s government action plan, Le Québec en action vert 2020, Stratégie gouvernementale d’adaptation aux changements climatiques 2013-2020, the studies from the 2006-2012 action plan on climate change reveal the “need to improve certain care practices and infectious disease monitoring methods, to monitor the use of certain prescribed medication and to change building renovation standards and methods.” As a solution, we propose providing healthcare professionals with ongoing training and developing knowledge transfer programs for professionals.

Now that we are less than a year away from the end of the 2013-2020 government strategy, what’s the situation and what has been done to prepare healthcare professionals for the effects of climate change? Patients will be impacted, which means healthcare professionals’ work will also be impacted.

As the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks said in preface to the government strategy: “The government will set the example by integrating Quebec’s adaptation goals into its management policies and tools.” Healthcare professionals will need to make sure they aren’t forgotten in this transition to a greener Quebec. They will need to speak up and demand answers before it gets too hot!

Does OHS know?

To learn more about the risks associated with climate change on the population’s health, go to:

Section 2 of the Sustainable Development Act defines what sustainable development means within the context of this legislation.