x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Workers get mandatory break from summer sun

Employers are ordered to allow workers to rest for two and a half hours in the afternoon during July and August.

Workers take a break in the shade near the Al Mamoura building in Abu Dhabi.
Workers take a break in the shade near the Al Mamoura building in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Employers must allow workers to rest for two and a half hours in the afternoon during July and August to avoid the searing heat, according to a Ministry of Labour decree issued yesterday. The summer work hours regulations, which have changed little from last year, stipulate that workers in the open must break from 12.30pm to 3pm. Employers must also provide a shaded area for workers to rest in, the ruling passed by Saqr Ghobash, the Minister of Labour, said.

There are some exemptions to the regulations, including if for "technical reasons" it is "imperative that work should continue without interruption", the ruling said. This includes the laying of asphalt and concrete and work necessary to prevent public hazards, such as repair of water and electricity supply. Work for the "smooth flow of traffic and other services" and "any other tasks approved by the director general of the ministry", are also exempt.

If workers have to continue through the heat of the day then companies must provide ample water, drinks, on site first aid and shade and cooling devices. "It's very important that this break is enforced in the peak of the heat," said Dr Belal Hashim, from Lifeline Healthcare, which treats between 70 and 100 labourers each day. "There can be many complications from the heat and the direct sun, including dehydration, heat exhaustion, loss of consciousness and, in the worst cases, even death."

Dr Hashim said he thought the break should begin earlier, at 11.30am, when the heat was already intense. "If someone faints on a construction site that can be very dangerous, especially if they are working on a high level," he said. The Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) and Ministry of Labour earlier this month launched a Safety in the Heat campaign, which includes educational workshops on the dangers of working outdoors during the summer months.

Health and labour officials will carry out spot checks on work sites during the summer to ensure that companies are taking proper care of their employees. There are strong penalties for any company caught breaking the regulations. For a first offence the employer is fined Dh10,000 (US$2,725) and is banned from issuing new labour permits for a period of three months. The punishment is doubled to a Dh20,000 fine and a six-month ban on new work permits for a second offence, and if a company breaks the rules for a third time it will be fined Dh30,000 and not allowed to issue new permits for one year.

The ruling also requires that daily work schedules are posted in public spaces in both Arabic and a language understood by the workers. Employers should also provide safety equipment to protect workers from occupational hazards. Workers should work for a maximum of eight hours a day, and if they are required to work longer should be paid at overtime rates, the ruling said. The midday break was introduced in 2005 with a four-hour rest period, but this was reduced to two and a half hours the following year. Last year officials said 99 per cent of companies were abiding by the regulations, compared with 75 per cent when the break was first introduced.

lmorris@thenational.ae