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More frequent and extreme weather events pose increasing risks to employee health and business performance

Risk analysis conducted by the newly formed National Commission on Climate and Workforce Health highlights need to bolster people, business, and economic resilience

  • CEOs acknowledge extreme weather will be one of the most critical threats to their businesses in the next year.

  • Yet only 17% of CEOs have invested in strategies to better protect employees from climate health risks.

  • Exposure to more frequent extreme heat, poor air quality and unprecedented weather events directly impacts physical and mental health and exacerbates underlying chronic conditions.

  • Extreme heat alone now generates a productivity loss of more than 295 billion work hours per year worldwide.

  • The Commission will gather data to further quantify the implications for health care costs; develop recommended actions for mitigating risks; and identify innovative solutions for protecting employees.

LOS ANGELES, April 22, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- Despite the growing number of studies linking the planet's changing climate to an increase in physical and mental health issues, less than one in five business leaders feel fully prepared to address the long-term, climate-driven health risks facing their workforce, according to an analysis of existing research released today by the National Commission on Climate and Workforce Health (the Commission). The Commission's analysis brings to light the significant implications climate-related health risks can have on a business' people, operations, and performance – as well as the U.S. economy – as up to 84% of the value of S&P 500 companies is in human capital.

National Commission on Climate and Workforce Health logo
National Commission on Climate and Workforce Health logo

Representing a diverse group of prominent U.S. business leaders and public health and safety experts, the Commission aims to help employers assess the growing threats the current climate poses to both human health and business performance in order to help them take the necessary steps to build climate-resilient workforces. The Commission was created by the Health Action Alliance in partnership with Mercer and with strategic input from the CDC Foundation. Additional support for the initiative is being provided by Elevance Health and The Hartford.

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"In our efforts to protect the future health of our planet, we can't overlook the significant health vulnerabilities facing our workforce today," said Dr. David Michaels, former assistant secretary of labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Commission member. "Building resilience will take more than policy change. It will require the active leadership of the private sector."

Titled Climate and Health: The Increasing Risks to Our People-Powered Economy, the Commission's analysis released today includes data points from a range of recently published studies on climate and employee health. It also highlights unique insights from more than 100 interviews with C-suite executives and other business leaders, public health officials, and climate science experts, alongside quantitative findings from a March 2024 survey of health and benefits leaders – both conducted by the Health Action Alliance.

Additional insights from the Commission's risk analysis include:

  • Disconnect between awareness and action: While CEOs acknowledge the critical threat of extreme weather to their businesses in the upcoming year, fewer than 1 in 5 business leaders feel fully prepared to address climate-related health risks, according to Mercer.

  • Unequal distribution of risk: While the current climate poses health threats for everyone, employees from under-resourced and marginalized communities often live in areas with the highest morbidity and mortality risks due to changes in temperature and air quality, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

  • Impact on existing conditions and costs: The increased severity of extreme weather not only poses immediate physical health risks but also exacerbates existing physical and mental health conditions. In the U.S., 62% of people with employer-based insurance have at least one chronic condition.

  • Advantage of proactive investment: Companies willing to invest in mitigating health risks have a competitive advantage. For every dollar saved in health care costs, employers can realize an estimated $2.30 in improved performance and productivity.

"Employees today face an array of climate-related health risks, which leaves businesses vulnerable to fractures," said Susan Potter, president, Mercer U.S. & Canada and co-chair of the Commission. "However, there are many steps employers can take to improve the resilience of their people.

Together with the Commission, we hope to educate and engage employers on how to assess and quantify these risks and to create health and benefits strategies that help employees live well and build their resilience."

"This Commission represents a unique and innovative approach to addressing the urgent need to build climate-resilient workforces," said Bill Frist, former U.S. Senate majority leader and co-chair of the Commission. "By leveraging the collective expertise of these impressive leaders and fostering opportunities for collaborative learning, we can catalyze cross-industry strategies to help both employers and employees adapt to the unprecedented changes in our environment."

The Commission comprises business leaders with broad functional expertise as well as thought leaders across science, medicine, and health policy, including:

  • Dr. William Frist (co-chair), former majority leader, U.S. Senate, and partner, Frist Cressey Ventures

  • Susan Potter (co-chair), president, Mercer U.S. and Canada

  • Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director, American Public Health Association

  • Dr. Brian Castrucci, president and CEO, de Beaumont Foundation

  • Gary Cohen, president and founder, Health Care Without Harm

  • Dr. Howard Frumkin, senior vice president, Trust for Public Land, and professor emeritus University of Washington

  • Jane Gilbert, chief heat officer, Miami-Dade County, Florida

  • Dr. Pam Hymel, chief medical officer, Disney Experiences

  • Abner Mason, founder and CEO, SameSky Health

  • Hakon Mattson, chief sustainability officer, Elevance Health

  • Dr. David Michaels, former assistant secretary of labor, U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and professor, George Washington University

  • Dr. Judy Monroe, president and CEO, CDC Foundation

  • Dr. Lisa Patel, clinical associate professor, Stanford Medicine, and executive director, Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health

  • Dr. Adam Seidner, chief medical officer, The Hartford

  • Lawrence Sloan, CEO, American Industrial Hygiene Association

  • Dr. Sohini Stone, chief medical officer global employee health, Google

The Commission will:

  • Raise awareness of extreme weather threats to employee health through educational programs and workshops.

  • Quantify the risk by creating an interactive financial projection tool to help employers understand their individual risk profile and forecast the magnitude of their climate-related health costs over time.

  • Develop recommended actions for mitigating climate-related health risks, supported by research on the benefits of climate-protective measures.

  • Foster peer-learning communities to share strategies and experiences in addressing climate-related health risks.

  • Promote innovative solutions to climate-related health impacts, collaborating with startups and researchers to develop new tools and practices.

"Our health is directly linked to the health of our physical environment. As a healthcare company with an integrated whole-health approach, we acknowledge our responsibility to preserve and improve the health of our members, communities and our own workforce," said Hakon Mattson, chief sustainability officer, Elevance Health and Commission member. "We are proud to be one of the first organizations to join the Commission and are committed to working collectively to help organizations build more climate resilient workforces."

"It's important for employers today to understand and address the mental and physical toll on U.S. employees due to extreme weather, which is increasing in frequency and severity," said Dr. Adam Seidner, chief medical officer, The Hartford and Commission member. "Based on trends in our workers' compensation and disability claims data, companies that aren't mitigating climate impacts will continue to experience significant increases in costs associated with employee wellness and, in turn, greater impacts to the bottom line."

"Building a climate-resilient workforce is the next urgent health challenge we must address," said Stephen Massey, co-founder, Health Action Alliance. "In an era of more frequent and severe weather events, we are committed to helping employers assess their risk and adapt their operations to protect workers and maintain business continuity."

To download a copy of Climate and Health: The Increasing Risks to Our People-Powered Economy and to learn more about the National Commission on Climate and Workforce Health visit ClimateHealthCommission.org.

About Health Action Alliance
Health Action Alliance is the country's largest network of employers focused on issues intersecting public health and business – with more than 7,000 employers reaching more than 30 million workers. Our free tools, training, and events help employers, large and small, navigate evolving health challenges, improve the health of workers and engage with public health partners to build stronger, healthier communities.

About Mercer
Mercer believes in building brighter futures by redefining the world of work, reshaping retirement and investment outcomes, and unlocking real health and well-being. Mercer's approximately 25,000 employees are based in 43 countries and the firm operates in over 130 countries. Mercer is a business of Marsh McLennan (NYSE: MMC), the world's leading professional services firm in the areas of risk, strategy and people, with more than 85,000 colleagues and annual revenue of $23 billion. Through its market-leading businesses including Marsh, Guy Carpenter and Oliver Wyman, Marsh McLennan helps clients navigate an increasingly dynamic and complex environment. Follow Mercer on LinkedIn and X.

About the CDC Foundation
The CDC Foundation helps the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) save and improve lives by unleashing the power of collaboration between CDC, philanthropies, corporations, organizations and individuals to protect the health, safety and security of America and the world.

Since 1995, the CDC Foundation has raised over $2.2 billion and launched more than 1,400 programs impacting a variety of health threats from chronic disease conditions including cardiovascular disease and cancer, to infectious diseases like rotavirus and HIV, to emergency responses, including COVID-19 and Ebola.

About Elevance Health, Inc.
Elevance Health is a lifetime, trusted health partner fueled by its purpose to improve the health of humanity. The company supports consumers, families, and communities across the entire care journey – connecting them to the care, support, and resources they need to lead healthier lives. Elevance Health's companies serve more than 115 million people through a diverse portfolio of industry-leading medical, digital, pharmacy, behavioral, clinical, and complex care solutions. Follow us @ElevanceHealth on X and Elevance Health on LinkedIn.

About The Hartford
The Hartford is a leader in property and casualty insurance, group benefits and mutual funds. With more than 200 years of expertise, The Hartford is widely recognized for its service excellence, sustainability practices, trust and integrity. The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc., (NYSE: HIG) operates through its subsidiaries under the brand name, The Hartford, and is headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut. For additional details, please read The Hartford's legal notice.

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SOURCE Health Action Alliance