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environmental disaster wild fire

Human Resources

How can HR help workers when a disaster strikes?

Published 11 August 2022 in Human Resources • 6 min read

As environmental disasters become more frequent, the role of sustainable human resource (HR) practices will be critical in supporting the wellbeing and safety of workers.

Data over the last century shows a sharp rise in environmental disasters, with a tenfold increase in ecological disasters since the 1960s. Rising sea levels, droughts and other climate change-related events displace some 20 million people annually. Data reveals human activity is a significant cause. For example, a study of the most recent marine heatwave, which lasted from 2019 to 2021 and produced water temperatures up to six degrees celsius above average, found the probability of such a heatwave arising without human influences was less than one per cent. 

Experts warn environmental disasters will become more frequent and damaging. Increases in climate-related disasters impose high costs on society and businesses. For example, a recent report by Deloitte shows unchecked climate change may cost the global economy US$178 trillion (A$255 trillion) over the next 50 years.

While businesses are increasingly taking steps to assess the risks and prepare for climate change, many still face internal and external challenges that hinder efforts to move toward greater sustainability and climate resilience. With environmental disasters expected to be more frequent, how should Australian businesses cope with the fallout? What can workplaces and their HR teams do to help manage the impact of natural disasters on workers?

HR management in an era of environmental disasters 

Karin Sanders, Professor in the School of Management and Governance at UNSW Business School, says the increasing frequency and severity of environmental disasters mean businesses need to implement more sustainable HR management practices focused on improving the wellbeing of workers. She examines this topic in a recent paper, Strategic human resource management in the era of environmental disruptionsIn the study, Professor Sanders and her co-authors refer to “environmental disruptions” more broadly as unexpected events with extreme impacts on society and businesses. The authors use the COVID-19 pandemic as a recent example due to its profound unforeseen effects on existing arrangements within and across organizations. 

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