x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Thermal work limit a real measure of stress

The UAE's army of labourers is used to toiling in the heat but temperature is just part of the story.

The UAE's army of labourers is used to toiling in the heat but temperature is just part of the story.
The UAE's army of labourers is used to toiling in the heat but temperature is just part of the story.

The UAE's army of labourers is used to toiling in the heat. But temperature is just part of the story.

Other factors are just as important, according to experts, in terms of the stress they put on the human metabolism.

So from today until the midday break ends in September, The National will each day publish a measurement known as the thermal work limit (TWL).

The measure is a heat stress index - in other words, how dangerous it is to be working under certain conditions. It has been drawn up by the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi, which is pushing for it to be given legal teeth.

And the need for it is clear, to complement the midday break law that precludes work in the sun between the hours of 12.30pm and 3pm.

In the first 12 days that this year's midday break was in force, Kuwait Hospital in Sharjah received 19 cases of heat exhaustion.

That can be expected to rise as the summer rolls on; last year, there were a total of 817 cases of heat exhaustion, up from 763 in 2009.

"Most of the cases we are receiving are from construction workers or other professions that require people to work in an open for long hours," said Dr Amina Ahmed, head of the hospital's emergency department.

In most cases the patients were treated and released. Dr Ahmed warned that harmful sun rays could cause heat stroke. She said direct sunlight could also affect the digestive system and cause skin problems.

The hospital is planning an awareness campaign aimed at people who work in the open.

"Our team would be visiting construction sites, and big establishments like the Municipality and Sewa [the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority] to warn workers against over exposing themselves to sunshine," said Sheikha Abdullah, chair of the health education committee.

There has been a steady trickle of cases in Dubai, too. Dr Viktor Butros, specialist senior registrar in-charge at Rashid Hospital's emergency department - one of the emirate's biggest - said it had seen 23 cases between May 21 and June 26. All were treated and discharged immediately.

Doctors in the capital, though, have noted a substantial decrease in the number of heat-related problems.

Dr Jihad Awad, head of emergency at Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said it has seen far fewer patients with heat exhaustion symptoms, compared with last year.

"We have had just a handful of workers come by complaining of heat exhaustion; maybe just one or two men every three days or so," Dr Awad said.

"This is such a huge improvement from years past, when we'd treat dozens of heat exhaustion cases and even heat stroke patients every week during the summer."

He credited an increased awareness of the risks of heat among both labourers and employers, and an improvement in safety standards on construction sites.

"Enforcing the midday break to prevent workers from toiling in the sun during the hottest hours of the day has made a huge difference; it is thanks to that regulation that we are seeing less patients, really."

newsdesk@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Bana Qabbani