Article: Working in extreme heat: How to protect workers

Life @ Work

Working in extreme heat: How to protect workers

Extreme heat is endangering the lives of millions in Southeast Asia. In this special feature, we provide 15 ways to protect your team from scorching temperatures.
Working in extreme heat: How to protect workers

2024 is predicted to be the hottest year on record if extreme weather patterns continue their onslaught. At this point, they show no signs of abating.

Record high temperatures in Thailand and the Philippines are already endangering the lives of millions – especially those who must brave the outdoors as part of their livelihood.

In Thailand, where the heat index crossed 52°Celsius, at least 30 deaths this year have been linked to extreme heat.

Governments in Southeast Asia have advised their citizens to remain indoors as the extreme weather peaks in May and lasts through June.

Yet, while schools have closed and offices have changed work hours or suspended their operations entirely, power systems are now starting to break down.

Living (and working) through the climate crisis

The deadly heat wave is partly attributed to the El Niño phenomenon and largely the evidence of global temperatures reaching the critical 1.5° Celsius tipping point. Beyond this point, the dangers of global warming will become irreversible.

Southeast Asia, along with parts of South Asia, is living through the climate crisis.

“Climate change is already having serious impacts on the safety and health of workers,” said the International Labour Organization.

The ILO last week issued its latest global report on the impacts of climate change on occupational safety and health.

“Workers are among those most exposed to climate change hazards yet frequently have no choice but to continue working, even if conditions are dangerous.”

READ MORE | Extreme heat pushing Filipino workers to demand better safety measures

19,000 work-related deaths globally due to excessive heat

Every year, some 2.41 billion people worldwide are subjected to the dangers of excessive heat, with nearly 19,000 work-related deaths attributed to it. Common ailments associated with it are heat stress, heatstroke, heat exhaustion, cardiovascular diseases, and chronic kidney disease, among others.

Some countries have legislation around maximum temperatures in workplaces. In Singapore, the temperature in an enclosed workspace should not exceed 29°C. Vietnam sets indoor workplace temperature limits at 34°C for light work, 32°C for moderate work, and 30°C for heavy work. Similarly, Thailand orders work to be stopped once temperatures reach the same thresholds.

Other countries that regularly endure high temperatures also prohibit outdoor work at certain hours of the day.

The ILO asserts employers have a duty to protect workers from excessive heat and to maintain a comfortable work environment.

15 ways to protect workers from the scorching heat

Occupational safety and health experts recommend the following steps for protecting employees from excessive heat and minimising the risk of heat-related illness or injury:

1) Set a temperature limit in work areas. For example, stop heavy work when the temperature reaches 30°C.

2) Provide ventilation and cooling throughout the work environment at a safe and consistent level.

3) Ensure direct sunlight and heat sources are deflected from or screened out of work areas.

4) Provide plenty of cool drinking water at the worksite and encourage workers to rehydrate frequently, even before they are thirsty.

5) Plan work hours around the temperature patterns of a given season or climate. In cases of extreme weather, consider remote work options or reducing operations.

6) Minimise the need for deploying workers outdoors during extreme weather.

7) Provide a carpooling service for workers who are required to travel and work on site.

8) Set frequent breaks for rest and rehydration in a shaded or air-conditioned space.

9) Where applicable, regulate the temperature in an outdoor workspace with electric fans and a continuous misting system.

10) Ease new or returning workers into their routine by setting their workload gradually. Allow them to acclimatise thoroughly before increasing their workload.

11) Determine how protective gear or uniforms affect workers’ health. If possible, opt for gear that is lightweight, light-coloured, and loose to allow for cooling.

12) Remind workers to refrain from drinking caffeinated beverages and to practise self-care whether at work or at home.

13) Educate workers about the dangers of excessive heat and the signs of heat-related illness in the workplace.

14) Assign a specially trained health and safety monitor who can recognise the signs of heat-related illness or injury among workers and check for any hazards on site. Also use a buddy system where possible.

15) With the help of a workplace health and safety expert, establish a system for handling emergencies.

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Topics: Life @ Work, #SustainabilityForPeople

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