News / Africa

Hotter Weather Spells Danger for World’s Workers

Workers in danger as temperatures rise because of climate change

Darren Taylor

Groundbreaking work by a team of South African medical researchers has exposed the damage the expected warmer weather in the near future will have on the health of workers.

The scientists say the health impacts of rising temperatures, especially in parts of the world that are already hot, could prove fatal in certain cases and could shrink economies significantly.

Hotter Weather Spells Danger for World’s Workers
Hotter Weather Spells Danger for World’s Workers

The team was led by Professor Angela Mathee, who’s the chief of the Environment and Health Unit at South Africa’s Medical Research Council and the director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Urban Health.

The study was part of an international project to investigate the implications of global warming on worker well-being and worker performance in various parts of the world.

South Africa was a particularly important study site as international climatologists say the country could be hard hit by climate change in the future. Some scientists have predicted that average temperatures in Africa’s strongest economy will climb by four degrees Celsius by 2100. Several uncharacteristic heat waves, poor rainfall patterns and droughts have struck it in recent years.

“People in many parts of my country are already working in conditions that are so hot that it is very uncomfortable for them and it’s putting their health at risk. If these conditions become more excessive it stands to reason that these health risks will increase substantially,” Mathee told VOA.

Heat’s physical toll

The medical researcher’s team studied workers in Johannesburg, South Africa’s major center of labor, and in the district of Upington, in Northern Cape province, where temperatures are often higher than 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

“We used workers like road construction workers, people who work in parks digging holes and on farms, people who were doing hard physical labor throughout the day,” Mathee explained.

She said almost all of the workers reported a wide range of health conditions, “like thirst and excessive perspiration, itchy skin, being very tired or even exhausted, having dry or bleeding noses (and) blistered skin, severe leg pains, dizziness, feeling faint, insomnia and having backaches and headaches.”

In the South American leg of the study, researchers found that relatively young cane cutters are suffering from potentially fatal kidney conditions because they’re sweating out liters of water a day without replenishing enough of the lost liquids.

In South Africa, Mathee made similar “disturbing” findings. She commented, “Some of the workers were telling us that they have to carry as many as five to seven liters of water with them a day, and sometimes that is not enough.”

‘Psychosocial’ impacts and lower productivity

Mathee stated that as temperatures rose, the health problems suffered by the laborers became more intense, and they also endured less obvious, psychosocial effects on their well-being.

Mathee says at workers are less productive at temperatures as high as 25 degrees Celcius, or 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mathee says at workers are less productive at temperatures as high as 25 degrees Celcius, or 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The workers were telling us that on very hot days they become irritable, or they can’t sleep and they become angry with their family members for no other reason than the heat that they are suffering.”

The hotter the work conditions, Mathee explained, the higher the aggression levels of workers, with corresponding higher risk of friction and conflict in their workplaces and their homes.

She also said hotter weather could significantly decrease worker productivity in the near future. “At a certain temperature (above 25 degrees C or 77 degrees F) you simply can’t be as productive,” said Mathee. “Some of the workers, in our discussions with them, were saying things like, ‘When it gets so hot we simply cannot keep up the pace of work, even in the morning.’ So productivity is going to be a big concern (in the future), especially as far as African economies are concerned.”

Strategies to protect worker health


Mathee’s study concluded that many employers aren’t taking any steps to protect their laborers against hotter conditions.

“They aren’t supplying enough water, they aren’t providing shade; the workers schedules are not adapted (for them) to be able to cope with this kind of heat. They aren’t allowing them to start working early in the day, for example, and having longer siesta periods in the hottest part of the day,” she said, adding, “Unfortunately right now a lot of workers are having to endure these higher temperatures with no relief and no effort on the part of employers at all to help them.”

Mathee did, however, emphasize that there are some good examples of preparation for higher workplace temperatures in South Africa. She pointed to some grape farms in Northern Cape province, where laborers begin work well before dawn, when it’s cooler. When temperatures start to soar, the workers continue their duties in air-conditioned pack houses.

Then, in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, some sugarcane farmers provide extremely strong lighting in their fields, which enables their workers to work at night and so to escape the heat of the day.

Mathee reflected, “This study has been so useful. The main message for me is that we have to act immediately; there are a lot of basic public health measures that we could put in place right now to increase workers’ comfort and to protect their health in the expected hotter weather of the future.”

She said these measures include “setting guidelines for work undertaken above particular temperature thresholds; considering new work schedules and rotations – for example earlier starting times or longer midday lunch break; providing safe water supplies to workers in sun-exposed settings; educating workers and supervisors about the signs and symptoms of heat stress and related intervention measures; providing shade for breaks and encouraging protective measures, such as providing sun hats and sunscreen lotions to workers.”

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid