Hot Summer Jobs: How Global Warming Weighs On The Workplace
As workers around the globe are faced with the mercury rising, jobs both inside and outside are becoming less and less bearable in the summer months.
PARIS — It’s August again, temperatures are topping 30 ℃ (86 ℉), and I work in an office in the center of France’s capital that dates back to the 19th century. Needless to say, it has not been equipped with air-conditioning nor built to shield against heat waves. We work with fans, and hide the sunlight with make-shift curtains.
Of course, I am among the lucky ones. On my way to and from the office, I can’t help but notice those who are obliged to work outside, under the scorching sun, often with heavy gear and extra clothing to protect themselves. How could they ever stay cool? Who’s looking out for their health and safety?
Over the past few years, our planet has been faced with steadily more severe heat waves. We have had to learn how to live with rising temperatures and adapt our daily lives to the on-the-ground reality of global warming. And for 40 or so hours a week, it is a decidedly work-related question.
The unbearable heat that has taken over some countries since the start of July has been fatal for some. According to French daily Les Echos, France registered 80 more workplace-related deaths than usual during the heatwave in July. Now, nations are taking new measures and re-evaluating working conditions to face this environmental phenomenon.
It is mandatory to start adapting workplace conditions to face extreme heat. However, is setting up air-conditioning in every office sustainable? Could working from home be a way to minimize the effects of our hot-and-hotter summers? What are the most sustainable solutions at our disposal to face these heat waves?
Health and security
Heat exhaustion for workers is a common risk when temperatures are too high. Symptoms include dizziness, headaches, shaking and thirst. An even more serious medical problem is heat stroke, which occurs when the body’s core temperature rises above 40.6 °C (105 °F).
Shifting working hours, reinforcing air conditioning, providing refreshment facilities ...
This condition can lead to long-term organ damage and possibly death. Long-lasting heat can also cause a range of chronic health problems. Constant exposure to heat can be hard on the heart and kidneys, disrupt sleep and challenge our mental health.
During the work day, what can be done to help adapt to the heat? It is important for employers to prevent risks, meaning shifting working hours, reinforcing air conditioning, providing refreshment facilities or even increasing the number of breaks.
Drinking water is important in the heat, image taken September 14, 2018
Workplace conditions are changing
In recent weeks, several countries have had to implement emergency protocols to deal with the high temperatures. Iran, with temperatures going up to 50 °C, declared two public holidays for public services and banks on Aug. 2 and 3. Back in June, the government had modified the working hours of public employees to allow them to start their day earlier, and in the process save energy.
In France, the “Code du Travail” (workplace code and ethic), does not determine a maximum workplace temperature, but it does require employers to make sure their workers are able to do their job under safe conditions, which applies to extreme heat.
In Spain and the United States, the media reported several deaths of people working outdoors despite the heatwave. Spanish media El Diaro reports that businesses have been fined up to 330,000 euros for risking their employees lives and health by failing to comply with safety regulations in the summer heat.
In Germany, Johannes Niessen, head of the Association of German Public Health Service Doctors, offered to extend the lunch break during the summer to allow for a “siesta,” reports German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. The origins of this practice lie in the Spanish “siesta,” dating back to the time when rural workers took breaks during the hottest part of the day.
Sustainable solutions for the workplace
Apart from the obvious solutions like frequent water breaks and flexible working hours, there are other practices that can be implemented to help their workers deal with severe heat.
Employers should raise awareness about heat’s effect on health.
Cities could plant more trees in urban areas, which would prevent the accumulation of heat in concrete and significantly cool down buildings.
Employers should also raise awareness about heat’s effect on health, emphasizing the importance of hydration and train workers on detecting early symptoms of heatstroke.
For those where the job allows it, working from home is also an option to stay cool as employees can dress informally. But it should also be an option to come into the office when it is equipped with air conditioning.
The real problem
While nations reform laws or implement new regulations, we must not forget that this is only a symptom of climate change. According to a report released in May by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), global temperatures are likely to soar to record levels in the next five years.
Summer often reveals the impact of climate change with extreme weather, floods, and fires around the globe. Seeing our daily lives impacted by high temperatures and being forced to change the way we operate when facing the heat, is a reminder of what is happening to our planet.
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