Rising temperatures are prompting reconsideration of work routines and policies to safeguard workers from the sweltering heat. As Southern Europe grapples with record-breaking temperatures exceeding 40°C, adapting business practices becomes vital to mitigate the risks posed by extreme heat.
Possible adjustments to work routines include more frequent breaks, shorter shifts, and adopting overnight work schedules to avoid the harshest daytime temperatures.
The alarming trend of intensifying heatwaves shows no signs of abating, with further warnings of heatwaves in many parts of Southern Europe.
The International Labor Organization’s 2019 report highlighted the adverse impact of heat stress on labor productivity and worker well-being. Temperatures above 39°C can significantly jeopardize workers’ health and even lead to fatalities. Last summer alone, around 61,000 people in Europe lost their lives due to extreme heat.
Beyond health concerns, heat waves disrupt concentration levels, decrease work pace, and pose significant dangers to those working in safety-critical roles. The repercussions extend to businesses, which may need to close during the hottest hours, resulting in financial strain and potentially exacerbating in-work poverty.
Julie Davies, a professor at UCL Global Business School for Health, emphasizes the urgency for adjustments in employment laws to protect vulnerable workers.
While employers have a duty of care to accommodate flexible working arrangements, Davies advocates for a legal mandate for maximum workplace temperatures to ensure the well-being of workers.
As the climate continues to evolve, adapting work practices to the challenges of extreme heat becomes imperative to prioritize the health and safety of workers and uphold the resilience of businesses and economies.
Work Hour Changes
In response to the increasing challenges posed by heatwaves in hot and humid countries, people are already adopting innovative work schedule adjustments to protect their well-being.
Some regions are altering traditional work hours to avoid the scorching midday heat, favoring activities during the cooler parts of the day.
For example, in certain parts of India, schoolchildren attend classes as early as 5 AM and return home at 9 PM to evade the oppressive daytime heat, effectively adopting a more nocturnal lifestyle.
This heat-adaptive approach to work includes embracing nighttime hours for more productive tasks and incorporating additional breaks. Research indicates that adjusting work schedules to capitalize on cooler periods of the day could recover approximately 30% of work hours that are currently lost due to heat-related challenges.
Encouraging open communication between employers and employees is essential. This collaborative approach can lead to fair and reasonable adjustments in working hours and the implementation of occupational safety, health, and well-being measures, especially during periods of excessive heat.
As heatwaves continue to pose challenges, adopting adaptable work practices is integral to ensuring the safety and productivity of the workforce while creating a resilient environment against the impacts of climate change.