Peer-reviewed Study Finds Extreme Heat Could Threaten $55.4 Billion Annually in Outdoor Worker Earnings by Midcentury

Nation, States Lack Mandatory Standards to Keep Workers Safe as Extreme Heat Days Expected to Quadruple

Published Jan 13, 2022

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WASHINGTON—Between now and 2065, climate change is projected to quadruple U.S. outdoor workers’ exposure to hazardous heat conditions, jeopardizing their health and placing up to $55.4 billion of their earnings at risk annually if no action is taken to reduce global warming emissions, according to an analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in collaboration with the University of California Merced released on a preprint server in August and published today in the peer-reviewed journal Elementa.

The study comes on the same day that NOAA and NASA released new data showing 2021 was the sixth hottest year on record.

“The last eight years have been the eight hottest on record—an alarming trend that shows no signs of slowing down,” said Dr. Rachel Licker, study author and a senior climate scientist at UCS. “More extremely hot days have left and will continue to leave outdoor workers vulnerable to heat-related illnesses and even death. To limit future extreme heat, policymakers must drastically act to rein in global warming emissions across all economic sectors, beginning with passing the Build Back Better Act.”

UCS analysis also found that nationally by midcentury, assuming no reduction in global warming emissions:

  • For approximately 18.4 million outdoor workers in the United States, extreme heat would put an average of seven or more workdays at risk annually; roughly 3 million workers have experienced this level of risk historically.
  • Outdoor workers in construction and extraction occupations are projected to face the highest total earnings at risk due to extreme heat at about $14.4 billion annually, followed by those in installation, maintenance and repair occupations at about $10.8 billion annually.
  • The average outdoor worker risks losing more than $1,700 in annual earnings due to extreme heat, though workers in the 10 hardest-hit counties risk losing nearly $7,000 per year on average.
  • The average outdoor worker in installation, maintenance, repair and protective service occupations stands to lose the most annual income at approximately $2,200 due to extreme heat.
  • Adjusting work schedules to coincide with cooler hours and reducing workloads to light levels would ensure most workers would lose fewer than seven days of work per year on average.

“While there are suggested guidelines, the United States doesn’t yet have enforceable national heat-safety standards to protect outdoor workers during extreme heat,” said Dr. Kristina Dahl, study author and a senior climate scientist at UCS. “Without additional protections, the risks will only grow in the decades ahead as climate change worsens, leaving the roughly 32 million outdoor workers in our country to face a brutal choice: their health or their jobs.”

To view the full national press release for this analysis, which includes more quotes from report authors; methodology details; noteworthy state- and county-level findings; disproportionate impacts on workers of color; and possible policy solutions, click here. If you have any questions or would like to arrange an interview with a study author, please contact UCS Climate and Energy Media Manager Ashley Siefert Nunes.

Additional Resources:

To view the PDF for the UCS report “Too Hot to Work” released in August 2021, click here.

Spreadsheets with data are available by state and by county. National data results can be found here.

To use the interactive mapping tool, click here. The map, which becomes more detailed when you zoom in, allows you to learn more about outdoor workers’ exposure to extreme heat and the corresponding economic implications by county.

For all other materials, including state-specific press releases, corresponding blogs, a related “Got Science” podcast episode, and Spanish-language materials, click here.