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

As US Strikes Syria, China Sees Parallels at Home

Beijing is debating how much support to give international coalition against IS militants and trying to figure out how many Chinese nationals may have joined group overseas More

CDC: Ebola Could Infect 1.4 Million by January

US health officials say if efforts to curb the outbreak are not increased, cases will soar dramatically by early next year More

Video USAID Provides $231 Million for Girls Education in 5 Countries

US Agency for International Development partners with celebrities to call attention to importance of education for girls worldwide 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.
NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbiti
X
September 22, 2014 9:20 PM
NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video NASA’s MAVEN Probe Enters Mars Orbit

NASA’s newest Mars probe, called MAVEN, has successfully entered its designated orbit around the Red Planet. Scientists will use its sophisticated instruments to try to learn what happened to the atmosphere Mars had a few billion years ago. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video For West Ukraine City, Conflict Far Away Yet Near

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv prides itself on being both physically and culturally close to Western Europe. The Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country are 1,200 kilometers away, and seemingly even farther away in their world view. Still, as VOA’s Al Pessin reports, the war is having an impact in Lviv.
Video

Video Saving Global Fish Stocks Starts in the Kitchen

With an estimated 90 percent of the world’s larger fish populations having already vanished, a growing number of people in the seafood industry are embracing the concept of sustainable fishing and farming practices. One American marine biologist turned restaurateur in Thailand is spreading the word among fellow chefs and customers. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Chinese Admiral Key in China’s Promotion of Sea Links

China’s President last week wrapped up landmark visits to India, Sri Lanka and Maldives, part of a broader campaign to promote a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Asia. The Chinese government’s promotion efforts rely heavily on the country’s best-known sailor, a 15th century eunuch named Zheng He. VOA's Bill Ide reports from the sailor’s hometown in Yunnan on the effort to promote China’s future by recalling its past.
Video

Video Experts Fear Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Natural Gas Export Plan Divides Maryland Town

A U.S. power company that has been importing natural gas now wants to export it. If approved, its plant in Lusby, Maryland, would likely be the first terminal on the United States East Coast to export liquefied natural gas from American pipelines. While some residents welcome the move because it will create jobs, others oppose it, saying the expansion could be a safety and environmental hazard. VOA’s Deborah Block examines the controversy.
Video

Video Difficult Tactical Battle Ahead Against IS Militants in Syria

The U.S. president has ordered the military to intensify its fight against the Islamic State, including in Syria. But how does the military conduct air strikes in a country that is not a U.S. ally? VOA correspondent Carla Babb reports from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid