An unprecedented four firefighters have died battling historic blazes in the American West this summer. The number of farmworkers suffering from heat exhaustion is set to surge as temperatures rise, as hundreds already die from inadequate protections. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is dangerously understaffed in the middle of another potentially dangerous hurricane season.
As rising global temperatures and changing extreme weather patterns reshape the conception of “normal,” no one will be more affected than the workers who are sent out to the frontlines of climate change. That includes the farm laborers who harvest our produce under the summer’s hot sun, the firefighters who battle bigger and less predictable forest infernos, and the emergency responders sent out in the wake of major storms.
Climate change is among the biggest emerging workplace hazards in the United States, one that ”can amplify existing health and safety issues and could lead to new unanticipated hazards,” according to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
“Workers are often the first to be exposed to the effects of climate change, for longer durations and at greater intensities than the general public,” wrote a group of U.S. and international researchers in a 2016 report. “Additionally, workers are often exposed to conditions that the general public can elect to avoid.”
From contractors to construction workers, fishermen to firefighters, those who labor outdoors will bear the brunt of climate change. The risks include heat exposure, air pollution, infectious and vector-borne diseases and longer, more dangerous storm and fire seasons.
For this series, HuffPost sought to explore the implications for workers in several particularly dangerous fields. We found that climate change is already making working conditions more dangerous ― and in some cases, deadly.