x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Midday break for UAE's outdoor workers as summer hots up

The break, to start on June 15, allows construction workers time to rest and rehydrate during UAE's hot summer months.

Workers in Abu Dhabi rest during their midday break last year. The Ministry of Labour has announced the start date of this year's break.
Workers in Abu Dhabi rest during their midday break last year. The Ministry of Labour has announced the start date of this year's break.

ABU DHABI // Doctors today welcomed this year’s midday break for workers, set to start in a couple of weeks time.

From June 15 until September 15, employers must not make staff to work between 12.30pm and 3pm.

Employees must have access to a shaded area to rest during the break, said Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour.

The working day cannot exceed eight hours and any work beyond that in a single day will require employers to pay overtime.

The Labour Ministry has required employers to post working hours and shift schedules at every work site, in Arabic, so officials can easily check during inspections.

Dr Khaliq Raza Khan, a general surgeon at Al Sanaya Medical Clinic in Dubai, said it was vital for the workers’ health that the midday break be enforced.

“It’s very important for them because the weather is going to be very hot and they don’t know how much water they should take during the whole day, so they get dehydrated,” he said.

“Even if they don’t have dehydration they can get exhausted because of the hot sun.”

Dr Khan said there was usually a surge in heat-related cases during the summer.

“They come and say, ‘please doctor give me a drip so that I cannot get exhaustion’. They become so aware of it,” he said. “In our clinic nobody has died. I have never come across someone it has killed but heat exhaustion can kill.”

Dr Ahmed Bahaa, an emergency physician at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, warned of the serious health implications of working during the hottest hours.

Even mild heat-related illness results in muscle cramps, fatigue and sweating, while the moderate form can cause headaches, vomiting, nausea and fatigue.

In its most severe form, known as heat stroke, a person can slip into a coma and die if not treated quickly and appropriately, Dr Bahaa said.

“It is very important, especially in this country because the weather is very hot, particularly from 12pm until 3pm or 4pm,” he added.

Employers are required by law to take safety precautions such as having fire extinguishers available, the ministry has said.

The only workers exempt from the ban are those whose work cannot be halted for technical reasons. In these cases, employers must have first-aid kits, rehydration solutions and cold water available.

A list of worker exemptions will be issued today by the ministry. Companies who break the midday break rule will face penalties.

Offenders will have the classification of their firms downgraded by the ministry, and will be fined Dh15,000 for each offence.

The break was introduced in 2005 when workers were given time off between 12.30pm and 4pm during July and August.

This was shortened by an hour the following year.

While employers and site managers have said the midday break was important, others were found to flout the rules.

During visits to more than 50,000 worksites last year, 109 were found to be breaking the midday rule.

“We make a place for labourers which is air conditioned for rest time,” said Ibrahim Henawey, an engineer on a worksite. “It’s important for the health and we give them something to drink with salt in it and there is cooler water in fridges.”

The hottest ever temperature recorded for May was 47.8°C, recorded on May 24, the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology said.