Nature Climate Change 5, 647-651.
Heat stress at the workplace is an occupational health hazard that reduces labour productivity. Assessment of productivity loss resulting from climate change has so far been based on physiological models of heat exposure. These models suggest productivity may decrease by 11–27% by 2080 in hot regions such as Asia and the Caribbean, and globally by up to 20% in hot months by 2050. Using an approach derived from health economics, we describe self-reported estimates of work absenteeism and reductions in work performance caused by heat in Australia during 2013/2014. We found that the annual costs were US$655 per person across a representative sample of 1,726 employed Australians. This represents an annual economic burden of around US$6.2 billion (95% CI: 5.2–7.3 billion) for the Australian workforce. This amounts to 0.33 to 0.47% of Australia’s GDP. Although this was a period when many Australians experienced what is at present considered exceptional heat, our results suggest that adaptation measures to reduce heat effects should be adopted widely if severe economic impacts from labour productivity loss are to be avoided if heat waves become as frequent as predicted.