With global heat waves threatening the working conditions of millions of workers worldwide, governments around the globe are considering adding specific health measures to help workers deal with the agonizing heat, which could have implications for global employers.
The U.S. is considering a national heat illness rule. The U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration is prioritizing the development of a new national heat illness rule. Currently, there is no specific federal policy regulating heat-related workplace safety. States can set their own standards—for instance, earlier this month Oregon announced emergency rules mandating that employers provide cool water, adequate shade and rest breaks every two hours when the temperature in work areas, indoors or outdoors, exceeds 90° F.
European trade unions push for a law in all EU countries on maximum working temperatures. Currently, six EU countries have legislation to prohibit heavy physical work at certain temperatures, with limits ranging from 28–36° Celsius (82–96° Fahrenheit). However, the European Trade Unions Confederation urged the European Commission to set a new law on maximum working temperatures across Europe. “Workers are on the frontline of the climate crisis every day and they need protections to match the ever-increasing danger from extreme temperatures,” the Confederation’s Deputy Secretary-General Claes-Mikael Ståhl said in a statement.
India and China face long-term climate challenges. Workers in India and China, the two most populous countries in the world, also face extreme heat. Recently, when temperatures in Delhi reached 49° C (120° F), many workers were unable to perform their jobs. Without specific legal protections, many could lose their incomes due to their inability to work in the extreme heat conditions. In China, the “Administrative Measures on Heat Stroke Prevention” regulates work conditions in hot temperatures, limiting outdoor working hours and providing heat allowance. However, the lack of enforcement puts workers in a difficult position. Both countries are considering adding more protections to help workers as the problem continues.
Outlook: The International Labor Organization says that temperatures exceeding 39° C (102° F) can be deadly, even when physical work is not involved, and that heat stress reduces productivity. As the ongoing climate crisis continues to create extreme temperatures around the world, employers can anticipate an increasing number of governments to respond with measures designed to protect workers from the heat.