x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Heat prompts calls for earlier midday break

Doctor who treats labourers says longer midday break 'should be enforced immediately, not a month from now'.

Pakistani labourer Khalid Abbas takes his lunch break under trees in a park in the Khalidiya neighborhood in Abu Dhabi.
Pakistani labourer Khalid Abbas takes his lunch break under trees in a park in the Khalidiya neighborhood in Abu Dhabi.

DUBAI //A doctor who treats labourers has urged authorities to schedule their midday break according to the temperature rather than the calendar.

Dr Khaliz Raza, of the Assanaya Medical Centre in Al Quoz, said the longer midday break "should be enforced immediately, not a month from now".

His comments came as temperatures in coastal areas reached 45°C yesterday.

"In the past week, I have treated 37 workers for heat exhaustion, 18 per cent more than my usual number of patients," Dr Raza said. "If temperatures are 44°C and above, then men should not be working in the sun during the middle of the day."

Last year, the Ministry of Labour extended the two-and-a-half hour midday break for labourers by four weeks, making it compulsory for outdoor work to stop from 12.30pm to 3pm between June 15 and September 15.

The break - meant to give workers a respite during the hottest period of the day - was introduced by the Ministry of Labour in 2005. The rule mainly affects construction workers, who make up almost half of the four million workers in the private sector.

Labourers in Dubai said searing afternoon heat was an unwelcome reminder that scorching summer temperatures were around the corner. Many said an afternoon break would be welcome when temperatures reached 45°C. Few, however, believed it was likely.

"There is some wind so the heat is not unbearable," said Younes Ismail, a Bangladeshi worker at an Al Quoz site who struggled to fix a broken water cooler outside a makeshift office. "Without this breeze we would be drenched in sweat. In two weeks there will be so much sweat you cannot see a man's face."

A Pakistani co-worker, who gave his name only as Adnan, said employers would never voluntarily agree to an extension of the midday break.

"People will starting getting dizzy if the heat continues like this," Adnan, 24, said. "There is not so much humidity now and that is saving us. We had a bad time this weekend - this is the start of worse weather."

Workers in blue overalls unloaded thin pipes from a truck at an Al Barsha construction site. Some squatted in the shade of yellow buses parked on the sidewalk, while others ate lunch from cardboard cartons spread out under flyovers. Most recalled similar temperatures towards the end of May last year.

Forecasters at the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology said temperatures in the mid-40s were normal at this time of year.

"Temperatures tend to increase substantially during May, around four or five degrees more than April," a spokesman said.

"It has been a very dry heat, with dry winds that have kept humidity levels to a minimum, which makes this type of heat much more bearable than a 34°C day with high humidity, so we're still lucky with the weather."

Hospitals have had no increase in heat-related admissions, according to Rashid Hospital in Dubai and Mafraq Hospital and Madinat Zayed Hospital in Abu Dhabi.

Dr Victor Mikhaeel Butros, senior specialist registrar in the emergency and trauma centre at Rashid Hospital, said that the hospital began gathering statistics on heat-related problems among labourers on May 15 every year and continued until August 15.

"In the past week, we have not had a single admission of workers suffering from sun exposure," he said.

That was not an indication, however, that workers were not already suffering, Dr Khan said.

"Workers tend to faint on site, rest in the shade for a few minutes, then get back to work, without replacing their bodies with the water and minerals that they need," he said. "Men that I have treated came to me complaining of exhaustion, muscle cramps, low blood pressure and headaches, which are indications of heat stroke."

hkhalaf@thenational.ae

rtalwar@thenational.ae