Continuing Medical Education

Climate change and occupational health: A South African perspective

T Kjellstrom, B Lemke, O Hyatt, M Otto


A number of aspects of human health are caused by, or associated with, local climate conditions, such as heat and cold, rainfall, wind and cloudiness. Any of these aspects of health can also be affected by climate change, and the predicted higher temperatures, changes in rainfall, and more frequent extreme weather conditions will create increased health risks in many workplaces. Important occupational health risks include heat stress effects, injuries due to extreme weather, increased chemical exposures, vector-borne diseases and under-nutrition.  In South Africa (SA), and many other parts of the world experiencing a hot season each year, the effects of heat stress may be of greatest relevance to the large working populations in mining, agriculture, construction, quarries and outdoor services. Factory and workshop heat will also become an increasing problem in the numerous workplaces without effective cooling systems. SA was the location for some of the most detailed research on heat effects at work in mines in the 1950s and 1960s, and the future will bring new challenges not only for mines, but also for many other workplaces. The climate model trends for this century indicate that the heat exposure may increase by 2 - 4°C during the hottest months, and this would change the occupational heat situation from ‘low risk’ to ‘moderate or high risk’ in much of SA.


Authors' affiliations

T Kjellstrom, Health and Environment International Trust, Mapua, New Zealand; and United Nations University, International Institute of Global Health, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

B Lemke, Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, Nelson, New Zealand

O Hyatt, Health and Environment International Trust, Mapua, New Zealand

M Otto, Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, Nelson, New Zealand

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Climate change

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2014;104(8):586. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.8646

Article History

Date submitted: 2014-07-06
Date published: 2014-07-08

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