Abu Dhabi, UAE: Labourers are continuing to work all day despite the highest May temperatures on record.
The compulsory break from noon to 3pm does not take effect until June 15 and there are no plans to bring it forward.
A new heat-stress index – requiring employers to set work hours based on weather conditions rather than the time of year – was introduced in February, but more training and equipment are required before it can be implemented.
Temperatures hit 44°C yesterday in the capital. The average for May so far is 42°C, the hottest since records began in 1997, and some workers have already been admitted to hospital because of the heat.
“Between 12pm and 2pm is the peak, and so it is too hot to work,” said Dr Lalu Chacko, head of intensive care at Lifeline Hospital.
“I think every person working outside should be given an hour or two, during this time, to rest,” Dr Chacko said.
Although long-awaited regulations were introduced in February to require companies to measure environment conditions – including temperature, humidity and air velocity – and manage heat exposure accordingly, no matter what time of year, the new rules are not expected to be in wide use this year. Called the Thermal Work Limit (TWL), the heat stress index will be used to link breaks and hydration requirements to the potential for heat-related illnesses.
More training and equipment is required before the regulations, which are incorporated into the emirate’s Environment, Health and Safety Management System, will be implemented.
At a construction site in Al Markaziyah, 300 labourers took more frequent water breaks and took salt tablets but were not given a break.
“If we feel it is dangerous, we will stop,” said Mohammed Hafez, the senior projects manager for Commodore Contracting Company, the contractor on the commercial tower project.
“We have not stopped yet this year, but we will when the Ministry of Labour requires it.”
The midday break, which is in force from June 15 to September 15 but can be extended by Ministry decree, allows workers “to rest in a shaded area and recuperate and rest or sleep during the day”, said Darren Joubert, the senior officer for occupational and environmental health at the Health Authority – Abu Dhabi (Haad).
“This allows for recuperation and rest in a cool shaded place and an opportunity for workers to drink plenty of fluids to rehydrate their bodies and replace electrolytes lost in sweat before resuming work again,” Mr Joubert said.
Haad does not enforce the midday break rule, but works with the Ministry of Labour to provide education and training on heat illness. The authority launched its fourth Safety in Health campaign this summer and will make training and awareness materials available to companies.
The health and safety manager for a construction site in Al Bateen said he did not plan to use TWL testing at the site this summer.
“We’re still waiting for particulars from the Ministry of Labour, but we launched our own campaign already for heat stress,” said Aju Sharafuddin, from Seidco General Contracting.
His workers are given more frequent water breaks, and reduced hours will be considered if temperatures continue to rise.
Dr Chacko said most heat-related cases in the Lifeline Hospital’s emergency were labourers who had become dehydrated through heat exposure and lack of water.
Left unattended, dehydration can lead to heat stroke and, in some cases, death. Symptoms include feeling thirsty and tired, and muscle cramps.
For some labourers, the thought of financial penalties can result in delaying treatment, Dr Chacko said.
“They feel tired, so they take a rest,” he said. “They don’t come to the hospital straight away, and are brought in when they lose consciousness. The workers might not come forward at all because they are worried they might lose a day’s wages.”
The midday break was first implemented in 2005 and requires outdoor workers to rest between noon and 3pm.
© The NationalMay 2012