x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Time breaks to the heat of the sun

Heat breaks for construction workers should be implemented according to temperatures and not time of year.

The official start to summer is a month away but it is already scorching hot. At area hospitals, doctors are seeing a rise in heat exhaustion cases in their wards, and anyone who has walked more than a block knows the sizzle season is here.

Why, then, are construction workers still looking towards their calendars to escape the afternoon sun?

By law, companies must provide labourers with a midday break only after June 15, regardless of the temperatures before then. Since 2005, workers who toil outside in the summer months must stop working from 12.30pm to 3pm.

The intent behind these work rules is sound. Development must not come to a screeching halt when temperatures rise, but with as many as two million construction workers building this nation from the ground up, safety must be the first priority.

But as we reported yesterday, some health professionals doubt that safety is being fully considered. "If temperatures are 44 degrees Celsius and above, then men should not be working in the sun during the middle of the day," says Dr Khaliz Raza of the Assanaya Medical Centre in Al Quoz. On Sunday, the temperature hit 45.7 degrees in Abu Dhabi, and a brutal 48.2 in Al Yasat island.

Dr Raza's concerns are well founded. In the last week alone he's treated three dozen workers for heat exhaustion, an 18 per cent spike from last year. So it stands to reason that authorities should consider new rules that match work breaks with temperatures on the ground.

Labourers working in the heat risk heart attacks, dehydration, headache, dizziness, faintness and nausea. These are of course dangers of any hard labour, but the risks are exacerbated when the mercury inches skyward.

Immediate enforcement of the midday break is not the only safety issue for labourers. Even after 3 pm it's hot. Construction companies should therefore enforce other safety measures - such as belts and harnesses - that keep men from falling because of heat exhaustion.

Protecting the nation's labourers is a responsibility shared between authorities and the companies that employ the men. Waiting for the clock to strike June 15 does not do this responsibility justice.