Understanding Heat Stress Risks for Outdoor Workers in the Tropics

Understanding Heat Stress Risks for Outdoor Workers in the Tropics - PRYME AUSTRALA

CASE STUDY: Key Findings and Recommendations

In the tropical regions of Australia, where scorching temperatures are a daily reality, the safety and well-being of over a billion outdoor workers hang in the balance. A recent study, published in the journal One Earth and spearheaded by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation alongside scientists from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), sheds light on the grave risks posed by heat stress risks for outdoor workers in the tropics and underscores the urgent need for proactive measures to protect workers’ health and productivity.

The study underscores the increased risk of heat exposure for workers, emphasising the urgent need for action. According to projections, even a mere 1°C rise in global temperatures could render one in eight individuals in the tropics incapable of safely engaging in heavy manual labour outdoors for most daylight hours. This sobering statistic underscores the imperative to curb global warming and implement effective measures to safeguard the workforce’s well-being.

According to the study published in One Earth, approximately 800 million people in the tropics are at risk due to heat exposure in their workplace. This estimate highlights the significant proportion of the workforce in tropical regions facing hazardous heat conditions, which can harm their health and productivity.

Key Findings:

  • High Heat Exposure: Over a billion outdoor workers in tropical regions face hazardous heat conditions, with nearly one-fifth of the year exceeding safety thresholds for heavy labour.
  • Climate Impact: A mere 1°C increase in global temperatures could render around 800 million tropical residents unable to safely conduct heavy work for over half the year.
  • Vulnerability of Informal Workers: Informal workers, prevalent in tropical countries, lack protections and face heightened vulnerability due to inadequate infrastructure.
  • Gap in Resilience Strategies: While previous research highlights heat’s impacts on worker health and productivity, there’s a notable gap in focusing on bolstering resilience.
  • Integrated Approach: The study integrates evidence from various fields, emphasizing the need for proactive measures to address heat stress among outdoor workers.


  • Proactive Measures: Nearly one-fifth of all hours already exceed safety thresholds, with projections indicating further increases with global warming. Therefore, actionable steps are essential for governments, communities, and individuals to enhance resilience to heat stress.
  • Research Agenda: Further research is needed to understand maladaptation and facilitate access to solutions addressing heat impacts.

As temperatures continue to rise, the urgency of addressing heat stress risks for outdoor workers in the tropics cannot be overstated. By heeding the key findings and implementing the recommended measures, Worksite Health Safety Officers can work towards ensuring a safer and healthier environment with Heat Stress Management plans for the millions who labour under the unforgiving tropical sun.

RELATED: How Australian Businesses Can Prepare for Extreme Heat Events: Insights from KPMG’s Heat Report



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