Protecting workers from rising heat collides with antivirus measures Vietnam news

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After a survey of more than 1,600 outdoor workers and slum dwellers in Vietnam’s hot cities found that two-thirds had symptoms of heat exhaustion during heat waves, the Red Cross decided to set up walk-in cooling centers to help.Financed by aid funds released a few days before an expected heat peak, the centers – in tents and buses – provide a cool place to rest and rehydrate, with staff trained to spot medical problems.

After successful tests in 2019, with 70 to 95 percent of visitors – including street vendors and builders, saying they felt better, the aid agency now hopes to expand its efforts to reach up to 25,000 people in Hanoi, Hai Phong and Danang.

But this summer there is a potential complication – the coronavirus pandemic, said Jerome Faucet, who heads the German Red Cross project office in Vietnam.

The country reported nearly 550 cases and no deaths until its first two Friday, but Danang is now seeing an increase in infections. Faucet said restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 could prevent cooling centers from opening during a heatwave.

Beer brand promoters wearing protective masks are seen as they wait for customers outside a bar amid the coronavirus outbreak Hanoi, Vietnam [File: Kham/Reuters]

If deployed, there will be hand washing stations at the entrance, better indoor ventilation and mandatory masks, Faucet said during an online event this week on the heat stress and work.

Organized by the Global Heat Health Information Network (GHHIN), expert speakers said heat-related threats to workers’ health at work – in sectors ranging from mining to construction and agriculture – are increasing as as the planet heats up.

A new report released this week by the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council warned of a dangerous confluence of climate stresses and COVID-19 hitting outdoor and indoor workers in the United States.

These include firefighters who are already battling an active wildfire season in the west, public health nurses performing outdoor COVID-19 tests, and teachers who may return to classrooms lacking. air conditioning, he said.

Orlando Green, a school bus owner and operator who lives in Slidell, Louisiana, said in the report that he saw the heat “go out of the normal range” during his lifetime, making his job much more difficult as his passengers were getting restless.

“During humid summers, with the 40 children crammed inside, the heat index can reach around 105 degrees (Fahrenheit; 40.5 Celsius) on the bus,” he said, noting that these conditions were not conducive to children’s health, good behavior or learning. .

“I hope elected officials at all levels will start to support solutions to this emergency,” he said.

Loss of productivity

Workplace and heat researchers told the GHHIN event that some governments are now waking up to the growing threat to the health and economy of their workforce from scorching temperatures, exacerbated in many case by high humidity.

Ta Hien Street in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, in Hanoi, Vietnam [File: Kham/Reuters]

In Cyprus, where summers are very hot, for example, the Ministry of Labor issued a decree allowing workers to knock down tools when the thermometer reaches 30 ° C (86 ° F), a provision that helps protect their rights, said Tahmina Karimova, Legal Officer at the International Labor Organization (ILO).

In a report last year, the ILO calculated the cost of global warming to the global workforce, predicting that increased heat stress would lead to productivity losses equivalent to 80 million jobs a time full in 2030.

This was based on a conservative 1.5 ° C increase in global average temperatures, the lowest target adopted in the Paris Agreement, and working conditions in the shade.

The two sectors hardest hit will be agriculture and construction, according to the report, with South Asia and West Africa being the regions expected to lose the most working hours due to a sultriness.

Andreas Flouris, an associate professor at the Greek University of Thessaly, who has studied workers’ experiences of heat at work and developed ways to help them, said companies have started to respond to the problem in recent years. years.

One reason is that technology has allowed scientists to more closely monitor what happens to exposed workers and calculate the financial consequences for employers, in addition to growing concerns about damage to health.

“Now that they also see the impact on their bottom line, the economic costs, they are twice as likely to engage in this area,” said Flouris.

Cyprus

An ice cream seller wearing a protective face shield talks with a customer in Nicosia, Cyprus [File: Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters]

Thermal safety measures have improved, especially in the construction sector, he said. On a recent trip to Qatar, which employs many migrant workers, the workers he saw were allowed to take many more breaks than expected.

Work plans

Yet while governments have an obligation to protect workers from heat under international occupational health protocols, few have specific legislation to deal with the threat, experts said.

Flouris is working with the Greek government to introduce such a law in parliament next year, and hopes it will have a domino effect in other European countries.

“The responsibility obviously rests with the government first, and then it spills over to the employers,” mainly through regulation, said the ILO’s Karimova.

The ILO believes that efforts to deal with the rapidly escalating heat problem should bring together workers, businesses and states in the type of social dialogues used to tackle other labor challenges such as working hours or pay, she added.

As policymakers and bosses realize the need to tackle heat in the workplace, they should assess risks, put in place plans to reduce the risks and provide training, Flouris said.

Practical measures include letting workers take more breaks to cool off and providing fresh drinking water and loose, light-colored, breathable clothing.

In some jobs, like picking grapes or olives, mechanizing certain tasks can also relieve tension.

Since 2016, Flouris has worked on the development of an online platform called HEAT-SHIELD which provides employers and staff with heat stress weather warnings and personalized daily advice on work schedules, including recommended breaks and the water intake.

The project also produced infographics translated into different languages ​​to raise awareness of heat health risks and how to reduce them.

Flouris said the huge amount of data and evidence collected on the issue over the past decade is expected to start driving new policies and improving workplace practices over the next two years.

Accurately quantifying the effect on workers “helps get the message across that it’s not just health, it’s not just the long term – it’s now [and] This month’s paycheck would be that much bigger without this problem, ”he said.

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