Absenteeism and reduced productivity due to heat stress may have cost the Australian economy an estimated US$6.2 billion in 2013/14, reports a paper published in Nature Climate Change.
Heat waves have become more frequent in Australia since 1950, and the number of heat waves is expected to increase with future climate change. Extreme heat is considered a dangerous natural hazard for the country, accounting for more deaths than all other natural hazards combined.
Kerstin Zander and colleagues surveyed 1,726 adults in the Australian workforce to establish how hot temperatures affect employees’ productivity. The authors found that 75% of respondents reported being affected by heat at their workplace, 70% said heat had made them less productive on at least one day, and about 7% missed work at least one day. Productivity loss was most strongly related to the physical requirements of an individual’s job. The authors estimate that the average loss due to reduced productivity amounts to US$932 per person per year, while it costs an average of US$845 per year for each person taking time off due to heat stress.
They suggest that workplaces should implement strategies such as reducing heat exposure and improving access to drinking water and fitness programmes to avoid significant economic losses if heat waves become as frequent and intense as predicted.