Current and projected heatwave-attributable occupational injuries, illnesses, and associated economic burden in Australia

Matthew A. Borg, Jianjun Xiang, Olga Anikeeva, Bertram Ostendorf, Blesson Varghese, Keith Dear, Dino Pisaniello, Alana Hansen, Kerstin Zander, Malcolm R. Sim, Peng Bi

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Introduction: The costs of global warming are substantial. These include expenses from occupational illnesses and injuries (OIIs), which have been associated with increases during heatwaves. This study estimated retrospective and projected future heatwave-attributable OIIs and their costs in Australia.

Materials and methods: Climate and workers’ compensation claims data were extracted from seven Australian capital cities representing OIIs from July 2005 to June 2018. Heatwaves were defined using the Excess Heat Factor. OIIs and associated costs were estimated separately per city and pooled to derive national estimates. Results were projected to 2030 (2016–2045) and 2050 (2036–2065). 

Results: The risk of OIIs and associated costs increased during heatwaves, with the risk increasing during severe and particularly extreme heatwaves. Of all OIIs, 0.13% (95% empirical confidence interval [eCI]: 0.11–0.16%) were heatwave-attributable, equivalent to 120 (95%eCI:70–181) OIIs annually. 0.25% of costs were heatwave-attributable (95%eCI: 0.18–0.34%), equal to $AU4.3 (95%eCI: 1.4–7.4) million annually. Estimates of heatwave-attributable OIIs by 2050, under Representative Concentration Pathway [RCP]4.5 and RCP8.5, were 0.17% (95%eCI: 0.10–0.27%) and 0.23% (95%eCI: 0.13–0.37%), respectively. National costs estimates for 2030 under RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 were 0.13% (95%eCI: 0.27-0.46%) and 0.04% (95%eCI: 0.66-0.60), respectively. These estimates for extreme heatwaves were 0.04% (95%eCI: 0.02–0.06%) and 0.04% (95%eCI: 0.01–0.07), respectively. Cost-AFs in 2050 were, under RCP4.5, 0.127% (95%eCI: 0.27-0.46) for all heatwaves and 0.04% (95%eCI: 0.01-0.09%) for extreme heatwaves. Attributable fractions were approximately similar to baseline when assuming theoretical climate adaptation. 

Discussion: Heatwaves represent notable and preventable portions of preventable OIIs and economic burden. OIIs are likely to increase in the future, and costs during extreme heatwaves in 2030. Workplace and public health policies aimed at heat adaptation can reduce heat-attributable morbidity and costs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number116852
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


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