Saturday, September 18

“Protecting workers from heat is like fire prevention: it must be done earlier or it may be late”

It’s hard to set foot on the street. In the heat of the heat wave, thermometers climb above 40 degrees in many regions of Spain. There are those who have no other choice because they work outdoors, also on days like these. Occupational Health specialists warn that sometimes it is necessary to interrupt or postpone work in extreme temperatures, as can happen with other inclement weather such as a strong storm or snowfall. “This risk must be incorporated into the day-to-day preventive action, because it is also going to be more and more frequent with climate change,” explains Óscar Bayona, member of the CCOO Secretariat for Occupational Health.

Companies that fail to protect their workers from the heat face fines of up to 819,780 euros

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“Days of extreme heat have always occurred in our country. What we have to assume, if we have not already done so, is that these days are going to increase as a result of climate change. These heat waves are going to be more frequent and they will last longer, with higher temperatures, “warns Bayona.

A glance at the news this summer indicates it. Greece in flames, the deadly heat wave in Canada, record temperatures in our country … The occupational health expert calls for reacting from a logic of worker protection to a danger that is often ignored, or normalized as frequent (” it’s always hot in summer “), but it has been shown that it can have serious health consequences. And that is increasing worldwide.

“The main risk is thermal stress. It can be caused by cold, but it is usually thought more about heat, especially now with these temperatures. Health disorders caused by heat range from fatigue, headache, dizziness, cramps, vomiting … Then we would move on to more serious effects, such as heat stroke, which is much more dangerous because it includes the rise in body temperature above 37 degrees, increased heart rate, loss of consciousness and even death, “explains Bayona.

Excessive heat can also worsen previous pathologies of workers, recalls the union member, as well as cause work accidents due to the worker not feeling well or not being centered due to excessive temperatures.

The day laborer Eleazar Blandón died last year in Murcia after suffering a heat stroke. The worker, a migrant of Nicaraguan origin, was abandoned at the door of the emergency service of the Lorca-Sutullena health center. That day the temperatures exceeded 40 degrees in Lorca. This summer, which was anticipating record temperatures, day laborers from the Murcia region raised their voices so that Blandón would not be forgotten. So that the tragedy, which often falls as an isolated headline, does not repeat itself. “Death by heat stroke of the worker who paved a road in Seville”.

With these extreme temperatures, do you have to keep working outdoors? “It depends”, answers the occupational health expert, who considers that each company must evaluate the risks it faces, determine different scenarios that may pose a danger to the workforce and, based on these, agree on the necessary measures to neutralize them. In case the risk is very high, “our advice at CCOO is to put off work.” Put the health of the worker first and refer him to other tasks or make up the hours at another time where the temperatures are not so dangerous.

“In the event that the work cannot be postponed, the company must implement all the necessary measures. We recommend that a written document be given with the risks to which the person is exposed, that the work is never carried out alone and that There are even medical services or a preventive resource to assist workers if necessary, “explains Óscar Bayona. In cases of less extreme heat, but still dangerous, it is more feasible to keep the job with some preventive measures that protect the personnel.

But the most important thing, says Bayona, is to act in advance. “From the point of view of occupational health, we insist that just as fires are prevented in winter, in this situation of high exposure to high temperatures, those prevention measures must be taken before these extreme situations occur. Before it is too late. We must incorporate this risk into the day-to-day of preventive action and that people are prepared, “he recommends.

While in indoor workplaces there is legislation Very detailed of the temperatures at which the staff must work –between 14 and 25 degrees if “light work” is carried out, for example–, there is no similar regulation with outdoor work, explains Bayona. “For example in agricultural farms, in construction areas or extractive industries, in which we do not have that reference.”

“What is not evaluated is not protected”

From CCOO Occupational Health they recommend that the first step to protect workers from heat is to “decide on a method to define thermal stress of environmental origin” in these outdoor jobs. That is to say, in what circumstances the heat begins to be a risk. “You have to take into account three variables, temperature, humidity and another is the wind speed. We usually recommend the OSHA heat index (pdf), the US Occupational Health Agency, which establishes a simple method with tables based on these variables and determines four situations of risk or danger. With each one, a series of measures should be implemented, “says Bayona.

Once an evaluation system has been chosen, the measurement of the risk of thermal stress should be incorporated as one more danger that companies must protect workers, as required by the regulations on the prevention of occupational risks. Companies that do not protect their workers from the heat face fines of up to 819,780 euros in the most serious cases, the Ministry of Labor recently recalled. The Labor Inspectorate has deployed this summer an information campaign to prevent heat stroke, which also includes the priority of complaints for this reason that are presented to the ‘labor police’.

“We value the Inspection campaign very positively. It is important that companies are aware and that workers know that they can report. What is not evaluated is not protected many times, so it is important to raise awareness that it is a risk that has to be measured and prevented, “adds Bayona.

“It must be remembered that some of these sectors most exposed to this danger are highly precarious, in which there is a low union presence and even a large presence in the underground economy. There it is difficult for the unions to reach and establish control, so it is decisive to have the Labor Inspectorate, “he continues.

The unionist also highlights the importance of training preventive resources in companies, “who know how to detect risks and how to act”, as well as the entire workforce. “That workers know how to detect the first symptoms if they are bad.” It emphasizes that the training of workers in “first aid” can save lives, both in the face of this and other risks.

“You can act”

One of the maxims of the occupational health specialist is the capacity for action. That these extreme situations do not have to catch anyone unprepared, given the information provided today by meteorological services, which allow us to know the weather forecast a week in advance.

“You can act,” insists Óscar Bayona. “We know how and where there will be extreme temperatures and at what times. We can prevent it, it can be addressed in collective bargaining. The general measures that a company can program are to provide shaded spaces, spaces for the rest of the staff, increase the breaks, the supply of fresh water, planning the work to avoid the hours of higher temperatures, supplying specific work clothes for this time, also with protection against UVA rays, since solar radiation is a carcinogenic agent and must be controlled. .”, summarizes.

Bayona considers that there is still “much to do” to prevent against heat stress, although it highlights that there are already collective agreements in which these issues are addressed in collective bargaining. For example, construction agreements in the Andalusian provinces so that work is not done at certain very hot hours. “You have to include these issues and then, when it is achieved, monitor that they are met. CCOO in Andalusia denounced a few days ago that more than a score of companies in Seville did not respect the time limits“He remembers.” You have to mentalize people. What you cannot do is work in July or August as you do in March, “he concludes.