Preventing heat injuring: Climate change and a new politics of workplace health and safety

Authors: Natasha Iskander*, New York University
Topics: Economic Geography, Middle East, Political Geography
Keywords: Heat, Occupational Health and Safety, Work, Migrants, Qatar
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Maryland B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

As temperatures around the world rise due to climate change trends, heat conditions have begun to pose significant and enduring health risks to workers exposed to external climatic conditions. Workers in a subset of industries where jobs are exposed the elements – such as construction, agriculture, and others – are especially vulnerable to injury as a result of heat. Although physical injury caused by heat can be significant, and can permanently damage the heart, kidneys, and neurological systems, the symptoms are often subclinical and only coalesce into visible wounds over time, by which point the role of heat in the etiology of the injury becomes muddled. This has significant implications for the ways that workers and their advocates are able to mobilize for protection against heat injury.

This paper suggests an alternative approach to understanding injury and the politics around its visibility. Drawing on the case of construction workers in Qatar, where summertime temperatures can rise to life-threatening levels, I argue for a shift in attention from the injury to the process of injuring. This change in focus allows for an examination of the workplace practices, power relations, and bodily reactions that cohere to produce a wound. It creates the political possibility of challenging practices that jeopardize workers’ bodies and their wellbeing before the damage becomes irrevocable and fatal.

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