x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Officials to set legal limit for working in the heat

Heat-stress index regulations are to be in force within a month.

Last year, 3,017 heat-related illnesses were reported in Abu Dhabi. Officials plan to put the force of law behind the “thermal work limit” (TWL) heat-stress index, which has been used by some companies in Abu Dhabi since 2009.
Last year, 3,017 heat-related illnesses were reported in Abu Dhabi. Officials plan to put the force of law behind the “thermal work limit” (TWL) heat-stress index, which has been used by some companies in Abu Dhabi since 2009.

ABU DHABI // Health and labour officials are to set a legal limit on how long workers can be exposed to the heat.

They plan to put the force of law behind the "thermal work limit" (TWL) heat-stress index, which has been used by some companies in Abu Dhabi since 2009. The move is supported by the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (Haad), the Ministry of Labour and the Environment Health and Safety Management Systems (EHSMS) regulatory agency.

The TWL uses four parameters - air temperature, humidity, wind speed and exposure - to gauge how dangerous an environment is.

The lower the TWL, the harsher the environment. A TWL below 115 is regarded as unsafe, meaning only maintenance and rescue operations should happen.

Even then, conditions must be controlled carefully. Workers must drink 600ml of water every half-hour and follow every 20 minutes of work with a 40-minute rest. Workers must never operate alone.

However, according to Darren Joubert, a senior occupational health adviser at Haad, this level - known as the "withdrawal zone" - is rarely reached in the UAE. "Most of the time it's been in the 'buffer zone' - the next most severe - in the UAE. We've rarely reached the withdrawal zone here," said Mr Joubert.

The regulations are in draft form at the moment, awaiting final approval by the EHSMS. However, Mr Joubert said they should be in force within a month.

"Our fundamental principles are embedded - which is good," he said. "That means companies will have to comply."

Although Haad wants the TWL restrictions to be compulsory for all companies, at first they are likely to apply only to businesses with more than 50 staff.

Those firms will be required to measure the TWL by the use of a device which should soon be available for less than US$1,000 (Dh3,670). "Large companies ought to be able to afford that," said Mr Joubert.

Scores of inspectors will enforce the regulations - a team of 20 from Haad and up to 100 from the municipality. There will also be teams from the Ministry of Labour.

The dates for this year's summer midday break have not yet been announced. Although the break must legally last for two months - during which time outdoor work is banned between 12pm and 3pm - last year it was applied for three months, from mid-June to mid-September.

Last year, 3,017 heat-related illnesses were reported in Abu Dhabi. Most, said Mr Joubert, were work-related.

A publicity drive on the issue has distributed more than 78,000 leaflets and DVDs to worksites and labour accommodation across the emirate.

hhamid@thenational.ae