Working safely in the sun: regulating for a changing climate
It’s been an extreme summer for many parts of the world, with record-breaking temperatures (again).
Authors: Tjeerd Hendel-Blackford, Michael Pantelides, Taotao Yue, Riccardo Zorgno, Dawina Isack, Caitlin O’Sullivan, Danyelle Barron, Elise Saade, Tamer Azar and Karolina Wrzecionkowska
It’s been an extreme summer for many parts of the world, with record-breaking temperatures (again). In Europe, at least, the heatwaves are continuing…This phenomenon, which may actually now be the norm in our changing climate, led us to re-examine and highlight some examples of how the issue of working in hot conditions is being regulated around the world.
Working in heat
Work involving excessive heat exposure is a serious health and safety hazard and can lead to various health problems, ranging from physical discomfort to life threatening conditions. In fact, every year, thousands of workers suffer from illnesses directly related to occupational heat exposure, some ending in fatalities. This is increasingly becoming an issue in countries that are usually used to more sedate summertime temperatures, and it has become magnified in already hot countries.
Outdoor work which involves hot and humid conditions such as construction, mining, and oil and gas operations, to name a few, are especially prone to heat-related illnesses, particularly when they involve heavy work tasks, requiring equipment and protective clothing. However, it is important to recognize that such consequences are preventable if the correct precautions are taken. And yet, as is often the case when economic considerations are in play, not every country is imposing sufficient measures.
As an EHS Site/Regional Manager or Director, it is important to know whether your employees and the employees of your contractors are protected from the heat, whatever hemisphere you happen to work in.
Spread over such a vast area, China is subject to extremes in weather, including unbearable heat. Consequently, Chinese facilities are taking extensive and precise measures to reduce working hours for their workers in hot weather. When the maximum temperature of a day reaches 104ºF / 40°C or above, outdoor operations are directly suspended, and when between 99ºF / 37°C and 104ºF / 40°C, employees must not work outside for more than six hours, or conduct any outside operations during the hottest three hours of the day. Facilities conducting operations in high temperature environments exceeding 95ºF / 35°C must utilize new technology and equipment to reduce hazards caused by high temperatures, and provide cold beverages and resting places with seats and ventilation/cooling equipment. Employers must not arrange workers who are pregnant or under the age of 18 to work outdoors when the temperature exceeds 95ºF / 35°C. There is still room for improvement, however, as China could aim to reduce thresholds by also taking humidity levels into account. Moreover, non-compliance could be better identified by the increase of workplace inspections.
Since March 13, 2018, if companies expose their employees to occupational heat they must carry out a measurement of the level of heat in accordance with the Notification Prescribing Procedures for Measuring and Analyzing Work Environment in Relation to Heat, Light, and Noise of 2018. The Notification clarifies the types of operations subject to the requirements and the duration of exposure in which the measurement must be based on.
Under the Notification, employers are required to carry out a measurement of the heat, light, and noise levels at their workplace at least annually. If employers make any changes to their machinery, production process, or any other work processes that may result in the change of the level of heat, light, or noise at their workplaces, the employers must carry out the same measurement and an analysis specifically for the area where, or for employees whom, changes may affect. This measurement and the analysis must be done within 90 days from the time that the changes are made. The Notification specifies the measuring equipment to be used.
All employers whose operations may expose their employees to occupational heat hazard are required to assess the level of heat during the regular working hours and other periods in which employees may be exposed to the highest level of heat.
If employers cannot identify if the work being performed during that two-hour period is light, medium, or heavy work as prescribed under the Notification, a workload assessment must be carried out to determine the type of work. This workload assessment must be in accordance with the Technical Manual of the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or an equivalent standard such as ISO 8996 on Ergonomics of the thermal environment – Determination of metabolic rate.
The Minister of Manpower in Indonesia recently issued Regulation No. 5 of 2018 regarding Safety and Health at Working Environment for workplaces that present a potential hazard from heat stress or workplaces with inadequate ventilation. Annex of the Regulation provides the “working climate” standard using the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature Index (WBGTI). The standard provides for working time arrangements according to the employee workload and workplace temperature. The working load is divided into: light, middle, heavy and very heavy work. For example, light work under the temperature of 31°C are allowed for six to eight hours a day and heavy work under the temperature of 30.5°C is allowed for maximum of two hours a day.
Further, the Regulation provides for various measures to control exceeded threshold limits/standards, such as: eliminating heat or cold sources from the workplace; substituting working tools, material and working process that generate heat or cold sources; isolating or limiting exposure to heat/cold sources; providing ventilation system; or using other control measures according to the science and technology development.
Famous for its oppressively arid climate and temperature extremes, it’s no surprise that much of the terrain in the Middle East is uninhabited. Temperatures can reach such intense levels that exposure can be fatal.
United Arab Emirates
Unsurprisingly, heat stress is a phenomenon that is recurrent in the United Arab Emirates during the summer period and beyond, where the ambient temperature can reach highs of 122ºF / 50°C, putting exposed workers at risk. Every summer, the Ministry of Labor imposes a country-wide ban on outdoor work between 12:30 – 3:00 p.m. during the summer months. Employers are required to specify and display working hours, as well as provide appropriate rest areas and protection against the risks of heat. For activities requiring continuous work or in emergency cases, first aid kits, drinking water, and a means of preventing direct exposure to sunlight are essential. The Ministry of Labor is continuously intensifying its inspection campaigns every year. In fact, according to the Assistant Undersecretary for Inspection Affairs at the Ministry, compliance with the ban was around 95.5 percent last year. Violations of the annual ban are penalized, including fines or closure of the work site, depending on the offence. In terms of monetary fines, companies could be forced to pay 5,000د.إ AED ($1,361 USD) per worker and up to 50,000د.إ AED ($13,613 USD) if multiple workers are found to have been working during the banned time. To ensure compliance, the Ministry announced plans in 2015 to carry out over 60,000 inspection visits. The inspections are carried out by the 18 inspection squads formed by the Ministry. In particular, the inspection squads regularly monitor construction sites to ensure their compliance with the ban.
In the Emirate of Dubai, for example, Local Order No. 61 of 1991 requires all employers to ensure safe working conditions in the workplace, which is used as the basis upon which Dubai Municipality tackles the heat stress problem. The Public Health and Safety Department of Dubai Municipality issued the Guidelines for Heat Stress at Work in 2010 in order to provide guidance on prevention, recognition, and treatment.
Since 2006, Saudi Arabia has observed a midday work ban during the summer months aimed at protecting the health and safety of workers from the sweltering heat. Every year the Ministry of Labor issues information and guidance to remind companies of, and assist them in complying with, the ban. Between June 15 and September 15, companies are prohibited from employing workers under direct sun exposure between the hours of 12 – 3 p.m.. Interestingly, outdoor workers in the petroleum, natural gas, or emergency maintenance work industries are exempt from this prohibition. However, the employers of such exempt workers must ensure that precautionary measures preventing direct exposure to sunlight are provided. Companies found in violation of the heat stress order will not get off lightly; they’ll receive a fine of up to 10,000ر.س SAR ($2,666 USD) or even a shutdown of the concerned facility for up to a month after the second violation. Companies found in violation of the ban for a third time could face permanent closure.
On June 7, 2018, the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), in cooperation with the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA), Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) and Qatar Petroleum (QP), organized a number of training workshops on heat stress with the participation of about 600 occupational health and safety supervisors from major companies operating in the country.
The workshops are part of an annual program entitled “Protect Yourself,” and address how to raise awareness among occupational health and safety officials about the importance of taking measures to prevent heat stress.
The Qatari law that seeks to to protect workers against heat stress, is Decision No. 16 of August 31, 2007, regulating work hours during summer. The decision determines the working hours for those who work in the sun or in open places.
Comparison: emerging markets vs. developed countries
The governments of the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) are not the only actors involved in these attempts to protect workers from the dangerous summer heat. Through the region, and even the world, non-governmental actors are also stepping up to bring attention to the plight of migrant workers, who repeatedly have been found facing dire work conditions. Migrant workers are especially impacted by companies’ compliance with the midday work ban since they make up the bulk of the construction workforce in many GCC countries. Saudi Arabia’s National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), for example, conducts initiatives aimed at monitoring the implementation of the Ministry of Labor’s midday work ban during the summer months across the country, where there are approximately nine million migrant workers employed largely in the construction sector. The Society is just one of several organizations that criticized the lack of enforcement actions taken by the Ministry in the past, and in previous years, the Ministry has responded with intensified inspections and enforcement actions. As the media remains focused on the region, we can expect, and hope for, more positive changes resulting from the weight of public opinion.
Over the past few years, Australia has experienced record-breaking heat waves so hot that darker shades of red had to be added to the weather map. Workers however can rest assured, as the country is well prepared for such conditions and leading by example when it comes to promoting the safety of its workers.
The 2011 Work Health and Safety Regulation calls for close monitoring of the physical well-being of workers exposed to heat. Training provisions are requisite to recognize the early symptoms of heat strain, how to follow safe work procedures and how to report problems immediately. Most importantly, Australia has very active enforcement agencies that prioritize inspections during times of climate strain.
Greece is also well-known for heatwaves so strong that they represent a serious health risk. Companies can refer to guidance documents published yearly by the Ministry for Health, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity to help prevent heat strain for workers. These documents serve as guidance on how to assess the risk of heat stroke, training, emergency response and first aid during periods of high temperatures. They also explain how to fulfill legal requirements, such as the need to integrate controls into the company’s health and safety action plan to identify whether organizational and technical preventative measures must be taken to reduce the potential for heat strain. These controls are relevant for activities undertaken outdoors, construction, activities involving heat generation from a production process, and in the tertiary sector. The guidance itself is not compulsory but can aid employers in protecting employees from heat stroke.
In France, since April 19, 2018, companies can consult the assessment report of the risks induced by climate change on workers’ health issued by the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail – ANSES). The research for the report was started in 2013. The report highlights that, except for risks related to noise and artificial radiation, all occupational risks are and will be impacted by climate and environmental changes.
The report concludes that the following three main climate and environmental changes can lead to an increasing of occupational risks.
1. Temperature increases
Exposure to heat has consequences on work strenuousness with direct impact on occupational risks (dehydration, heat stroke, etc.) but also indirect impact, notably on psycho-social risks due to tense situations, on accidental risks related to impairment of awareness, on chemical risks related to inhalation of volatile substances or on modification of the risks related to biological agents (infectious diseases, pollen, etc.).
2. Evolution of the biological and chemical environment
Environmental changes are likely to alter the distribution of some infectious disease vectors (mosquitoes, ticks, etc.) or to foster new vectors. This will result in an evolution of the risks related to biological agents, notably on people working in a natural environment or in contact with people and animals.
3. Changes in the frequency and intensity of certain climatic hazards
Changes in the frequency and intensity of certain climatic hazards (floods, submersions, etc.) could result in an increasing of the risks, in particular accidental risk, physical and psychical tiredness, notably on the employees of companies affected by these climatic hazards.
In the report conclusion, ANSES recommends the introduction of measures, without delay, to:
- promote awareness on the health effects of climate change, through information and training;
- encourage the consideration of climate change impacts in risk assessments (identification of the employees likely to be impacted, specific evaluation of each workstation, etc.); and
- continue efforts to include the health effects of climate change in risk prevention measures (for example, by adapting work environments and the organization of work).
In Poland, if temperatures rise above 86ºF / 30°C employers must ensure air-conditioned rest areas, sanitary facilities, of which depends on the working place and number of employees, as well as drinking water or beverages that is accessible within a maximum of 75 meters from the workplace.
Polish law does not provide for a maximum temperature, only a minimum. However, due to harmful effects on the body of hot weather, special protection is given to young workers as well as pregnant and nursing women. Young workers aged over 17, working in a microclimate of up to 26°C thermal load index, can work up to three hours a day, provided that energy expenditure standards are maintained. In addition, the employer is obliged to provide young workers with a sufficient number of suitable drinks at their workplace and a ten-minute break after every fifty minutes of work.
Further, it is forbidden to employ young workers where the air temperature exceeds 30°C, and the humidity index is or exceeds 65 percent. In hot weather, the employer is obliged to provide all employees with drinking water or other beverages. The water source cannot be further than 75m from the work station. It does not matter in what conditions employees work, because they are not prophylactic drinks. On the other hand, employees who are employed permanently or periodically in particularly arduous conditions should be provided with other beverages in addition to water. The term “particularly arduous conditions” refers to the work environment in which certain harmful and onerous factors occur, which is the hot environment.
Therefore, employers are obliged to provide drinks to employees who work in a hot microclimate, as follows:
- during work related to physical effort, causing during the working shift an effective energy expenditure of the organism above 1500 kcal (6280 kJ) for men and 1000 kcal (4187 kJ) for women;
- at work stations in an office environment where the temperature caused by weather conditions exceeds 28°C;
- when working in an open-air environment, at an ambient temperature above 25°C, characterized by a thermal load index above 25°C.
Since July 2018, companies can benefit from a technical guidance document providing methods and equations for assessing the micro-climate comfort at workplaces, published by the National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work (INAIL). This document, which does not impose specific obligations on companies, may be used by employers to carry out a detailed analysis of the climate factors at the workplace with the aim of achieving better working conditions and protecting employees’ health.
The guidance focuses on the impact of “non-appropriate” temperature at the workplace on employees, with regards to their health and productivity. With this aim, it provides the tools to measure and simulate the climate conditions, as well as to quantify its effects.
The Italian rules on climate and temperature at the workplace are set out in Title III, Section I and Annex IV(1.9) of the Health and Safety Code, which establishes that temperature in workplaces during the working time should be adequate to fit a human body’s needs, taking into account the working activities, working methods used and the physical demands placed on workers.
Moreover employers, when assessing the temperature of a workplace, have to take into account the degree of humidity and airstreams.
The U.S. OSHA has not established a federal standard addressing occupational heat exposure. However, OSHA does provide employers with information on how to prevent heat-related illnesses and what measures to take if a worker shows signs of illness. Currently, this information is presented alongside the General Duty Clause that requires employers to provide employees with a place of employment that is free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees. While heat waves across the U.S. have become more common, it is unlikely any standard will be established in the next five years. However, OSHA could be in the process of establishing a standard if the current weather trends continue and more workers are exposed to heat related illnesses and/or deaths.
California continues to require companies whose employees work in high temperatures to comply with the Heat Illness Prevention regulations. Under the last amendments, effective May 1, 2015, employers must implement high-heat procedures when the temperatures reach 80ºF. High heat procedures include:
- Training: Train all employees and supervisors about heat illness prevention;
- Water: Provide enough fresh water so that each employee can drink at least 1 quart per hour, or four 8 ounce glasses, of water per hour, and encourage them to do so;
- Shade: Provide access to shade and encourage employees to take a cool-down rest in the shade for at least 5 minutes; and
- Planning: Develop and implement written procedures for complying with the Cal/OSHA Heat Illness Prevention Standard. Further, additional procedures must be implemented when the temperature reaches 95ºF.
These procedures include observing employees for alertness, such as using a buddy system, reminding employees throughout the shift to drink water, and having pre-shift meetings to review procedures and remind employees it is their right to take a cool-down break when necessary.
As early as April 2018, excessive heat warnings have been issued for California. For each warning, Cal/OSHA publishes additional warnings and guidance to urge all employers to protect their employees. Cal/OSHA’s Heat Illness Prevention Program is aimed at keeping employees safe, and to do so, it provides a variety of information and training on its website. For example, heat prevention training materials and etools are provided for employers, and pocket guides and fact sheets are provided for employees.
Washington State implements the Outdoor Heat Exposure Rule from May 1 to September 30 every year. Washington’s rule is applicable based on the type of clothing employees are required to wear. For instance, the rule is applicable where the temperature is above 77°F for employees wearing double-layer clothes, such as coveralls, jackets, and sweatshirts, and applicable at 89°F for employees wearing other clothing. While not as stringent as California’s Heat Illness Prevention Program, employers in Washington State must implement an outdoor heat exposure safety program, ensure a sufficient quantity of drinking water is readily accessible to employees at all times, and provide annual employee training.
Not just health & safety of workers, but also an environmental issue
As a final point, it is worth noting that although the impact of extreme heat on workers is one clear side effect of a warming climate, another is increased pressure on the environment. Rising temperatures mean there will be more reliance on air-conditioning and other cooling equipment. On one hand, this could clearly lead to an increase in the use of coolants, and an upsurge in energy use. On the other hand, as there increasing regulations and standards around energy efficiency for both buildings and electrical equipment – such as air-conditioners. This presents a double-edged challenge to companies…how to ensure employees are kept cool while also meet energy-efficiency requirements (and restrictions/prohibitions on GHGs, etc). The answer to that question could be the subject on an article all of its own!
It is clear that regulators and policy-makers are increasingly taking the issue of heat stress seriously. However, a consistent global approach to protect the rights of workers is still lacking, notably in the construction industry. Of course it is impossible to eliminate all climate-related illnesses completely, however, the risk of developing heat stress can be minimized. Educating both employers and workers is vital for the correct implementation of rules and policies that are already in place, and in countries where requirements are insufficient, further action is necessary. Not only will this be beneficial for workers, it is widely accepted that better conditions in the workplace lead to increased productivity.