x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

50°C in the UAE, but fewer are suffering in the heat

Despite temperatures soaring as high as 50°C this month, fewer outdoor workers are falling foul of the heat.

Construction workers say working in Ramadan is a challenge due to the extreme heat. Asmaa Al Hameli / The National
Construction workers say working in Ramadan is a challenge due to the extreme heat. Asmaa Al Hameli / The National

ABU DHABI // Hospitals are treating fewer outdoor workers for heat-related illness this summer despite temperatures of 50°C.

Doctors attribute the decline to the legally enforced midday work break, and guidelines that non-fasting Muslims work during the day and fasting Muslims work through the night.

“We are seeing a decrease,” said Dr Jamal Saadah, emergency medicine consultant at Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

The break was introduced in 2005 for workers at uncovered building sites. They were given time off from 12.30pm to 4pm in July, August and September, though this was shortened to 3pm in 2006. The law is strictly enforced: more than 50,000 worksite inspections last summer found only 109 breaches.

The result is fewer cases of dehydration or heat exhaustion. The midday break “has helped tremendously, it has made a huge difference,” said Dr Murray Van Dyke, chairman of emergency medicine at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.

“We see few cases now compared to five years ago,” Dr Van Dyke said.

Nevertheless, Dr Saadah still sees a number of heat-related admissions every year.

“Just last week I personally treated three heat-related illness cases in one day,” he said. “We definitely do see those suffering with heat exhaustion and a lack of hydration who have been sent home.”

Those suffering with heat strokes, he said, pose the most risk. Heat-related illness can lead to muscle cramping and severe dehydration.

Dr Khaliq Raza Khan, a general surgeon at Al Sanaya Medical Clinic in Dubai, has seen between 40 and 50 labourers with heat exhaustion in the past 12 days, “because the temperature has gone up a little”.

Some have also suffered from “clawing” of the hands caused by muscle cramps, as well as cramps in their calf muscles.

“It’s very painful. They are getting it because of heat exhaustion, because of the lack of calcium,” he said.

The condition improves about half an hour after they are put on a drip.

Dr Khan has also seen a “very small number” of people who are not labourers fall ill because of the heat.

“It’s because of Ramadan and they are taking less water and are going out somewhere and they get heat stroke and then they get heat exhaustion,” he said.

The number of cases is about the same as last year, Dr Khan said. More than 90 per cent of the patients he sees throughout the year are labourers.

The Safety in the Heat programme by the Health Authority Abu Dhabi has also reduced the number of hospital admissions by educating outdoor labourers about the dangers of working in the summer sun.

Since its introduction five years ago, the campaign has reached more than three million people, 1,859 companies and 21,733 worksites in construction, manufacturing and agriculture.

A new online system in all hospitals in Abu Dhabi this summer will give the health authority information that has been lacking on heat-related illnesses.

Part of the Injury and Poisoning Notification System’s remit will be to identify when a worker is admitted to a hospital with heatstroke, and for which company they worked.

By the end of the summer the authority will, for the first time, have definitive statistics on which worksites and companies the labourers who are admitted to hospital with heat-related illnesses work for.

It will then be able to work with these companies and guide them on how to provide better working conditions, said Darren Joubert, a senior occupational health adviser at the authority.