Law to protect workers from heat stress delayed

A new heat stress index designed to protect workers has still not gone into effect, even as the summer draws to a close.
Men working at the Regent Emirates Pearl hotel site opposite the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi.
Men working at the Regent Emirates Pearl hotel site opposite the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Many companies in the emirate are unaware of a new heat stress index designed to protect workers, despite officials having pledged this spring that it would be in force by June.

In May, the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD) said it was working with the Ministry of Labour and the Environment Health and Safety centre to create and enforce the Thermal Work Limit (TWL).


HAAD officials said then that the TWL regulations were a draft awaiting final approval by the Environmental Health and Safety centre, and that they would be in full force within a month.

But as the summer draws to a close, no new regulations have surfaced.

A statement from the Environmental Health and Safety centre said that the requirements for TWL were still under development and that no law had been issued.

Similarly, a senior official at the Ministry of Labour said he was not aware of any impending regulations.

The rule was intended to complement the existing afternoon break law, which requires employers to provide workers with a rest period in a cool, shaded area between 12.30 and 3pm during the summer.

And though many companies already are taking action to protect their workers, the TWL remains largely unknown.

"To be totally honest, I haven't heard about it," said Paul Ritchie, health, safety and environment (HSE) manager with Arabian Construction Co, the contractor for the Etihad Towers near the Emirates Palace.

However, Mr Ritchie said, the company provides workers them with rest periods, four drinking stations and a medical clinic, among other safety measures. Mr Ritchie said the company also uses a rehydration system - a supplement added to water that replaces minerals and electrolytes lost through sweat.

"Most systems only replace salt and glucose," he said. "But we just recently started using a system that replaces potassium, magnesium, sodium and salt."

Site officers at the Land Mark Hotel project, beside Al Wahda Mall, also said they were unaware of the TWL.

"No, no, I didn't hear about this," said Hamseer Mohammed, a safety officer with Mammut Contracting. "But we monitor the temperature, and if it reaches above 45 degrees we give the workers an additional rest period."

Bhat L Harnard, the lead health and safety engineer at Target Engineering Construction Co, the contractor for the Shining Towers near Khalidiya Mall, said he had not heard of the TWL but was familiar with the idea.

Mr Harnard said air temperature and humidity are consistently monitored at his site.

"If the humidity reaches beyond 60 or 70 per cent, we try to relocate all the workers to inside jobs," he said. "We do our best to make sure our workers are safe."

HSE officers and project engineers from other contracting companies in the emirate, including International Mechanical and Electrical, Square Engineering Construction, Al Ain General Contracting and Acme Group, also said they were unfamiliar with the TWL.

However, all said they already took other precautions outlined by HAAD and Abu Dhabi Municipality to protect their workers from heat stress. Those measures include a six-hour work period for Muslims during Ramadan, usually from 6am to noon.

Farouq Ahmed, project engineer with Acme Group, said site officers ensure that workers receive two litres of water at two-hour intervals, and that they are provided with the necessary rehydration solutions.

"Work is allocated to the cooler parts of the day, starting as early as 5.30am," he said. "If workers feel ill at any moment, we make sure that this is reported to their supervisors. We also provide them with a cool and ventilated break room for their two-hour rest period."

Mr Ahmed said he was unfamiliar with the TWL, but said the company used its own tools to monitor heat stress.

"We use our own three-in-one monitor that measures air temperature, humidity and wind velocity," said Vijaya Krishna, the HSE coordinator with International Mechanical and Electrical.

The TWL takes into account four parameters: air temperature, humidity, radiant heat and wind speed, and exposure, to measure the dangers of a working environment. The proposed law would require firms to take measurements at their job sites, and based on the results, take precautions to protect employees.

"The TWL dictates how much physical work the body can handle in a certain environment before the body temperature starts to rise," said Dr Graham Bates, chief executive of Point Health, an occupational health consultancy in Perth, Australia. "In conditions with low or no humidity, the sweat evaporates and so the body loses heat because energy is released as liquid turns to gas. But in humid conditions, the atmosphere is already saturated with moisture, causing sweat to drip off the body, and therefore the body doesn't lose heat."

Dr Bates said a simple measurement of air temperature and humidity is not enough. Such heat indexes, he said, do not include many factors that determine how heat dissipates from the body.

Air temperature, for example, does not take into account how much heat is absorbed by a body. "If you ask anyone, 'Would you rather stand under a tree or out in an open area?' most people will choose the tree," Dr Bates said. "But the air temperature is actually the same at both locations."

The difference, he said, lies in the fact that a solid object, such as the human body, absorbs sunlight, which causes it to heat up.

"All the tree does is act as a shield," he said.

Wind also blows heat away from the body, causing it to cool, unless the wind temperature is also warm.

HAAD declined to comment.

Published: August 22, 2011 04:00 AM


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