International SOS alerts companies to ensure workforce safety amid extreme heatwaves

International SOS, world’s leading health and security services company, alerts companies in the UAE to ensure safety of the workforce with heatwaves expected to become more severe globally. As heatwaves are most dangerous natural hazards, it can cause extreme health and safety risks for workers. Almost half of the global population, including over one billion workers,1 are at risk of being exposed to high-heat episodes due to higher-than-normal temperatures and heatwaves, which have already been recorded in June 2024 and this year’s April being the hottest April on record.2

Heatstroke, dehydration and heat exhaustion are just some of the dangers workers face in extreme heat conditions. These conditions can lead to decreased productivity, increased accidents and even fatalities. Annually, 22.85 million occupational injuries and 18,970 work-related fatalities are attributable to excessive heat3. In the UAE, heat stress is a recurring issue for outdoor workers, especially during the summer when temperature may reach up to 50°C. With an aim to address this issue, the Ministry of Labour has imposed a nationwide ban on outdoor work between 12:30 PM and 3:00 PM during summer. Additionally, the Ministry has mandated employers to clearly display their working hours and provide appropriate rest areas that are equipped with drinking water, first aid kits and sun protection measures. In 2023, the country witnessed nearly 95.5 per cent of employers comply with the ban due to the Ministry’s rigorous inspections.

Workers across various sectors are impacted by extreme weather events, however, certain occupations are especially at risk as they involve more physical effort and/or take place outdoors. Industrial workers in indoor settings are also at risk if temperature levels inside factories and workshops are not regulated properly. At high heat levels, performing even basic office and desk tasks can be challenging as it can cause mental fatigue, while physiological and cognitive abilities can decline due to heat strain.5 Exposure to excessive heat can also lead to serious health risks, including heatstroke and even death. Proactive measures from organisations are crucial to mitigate these risks and safeguard worker wellbeing and productivity.

Dr Ehab Chalabie, Medical Director, Medical Services, Middle East, International SOS, comments, “The growing intensity and frequency of heatwaves pose a significant challenge for workforce health and safety. Occupational heat stress used to be primarily an outdoor

concern, but with rising temperatures, even indoor workplaces without proper ventilation can become dangerous. Organisations must go beyond basic heat stress prevention and integrate heat stress risk assessments into their health and safety policies. Furthermore, training employees to recognise early signs of heat illness is critical. Early intervention can prevent a medical emergency and long-term health consequences. By fostering a culture of heat awareness and encouraging frequent hydration and breaks during peak temperatures, organisations can empower their workforce to stay healthy and safe.

“It is also important for organisations to be able to distinguish the different stages of heat-related illness. Heatstroke, the most severe heat illness, is a medical emergency and can cause long term impact if prompt medical attention is not given. Symptoms include a core body temperature exceeding 40°C, nausea and/or vomiting, confusion and seizures. Recognising the early signs of heat stress, such as sweating, dizziness, headache and cramps, allows swift intervention to prevent escalation to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.”

International SOS offers guidelines for organisations to mitigate workforce health risks of extreme heat events:

1. Conduct heat-specific risk assessments: regularly assess your operations for potential heat stress hazards. Identify high-risk locations and activities and consider vulnerable employee profiles, including those with pre-existing health conditions or who perform strenuous outdoor work.

2. Integrate heat safety into health and safety policies: make heat stress prevention a core component of your health and safety policies. Ensure workers have access to shaded areas for breaks, hydration stations to keep hydrated and allow for breathable workwear suitable for high temperatures.

3. Provide heat stress awareness and prevention training: deliver climate-specific training programmes that focus on working safely in extreme heat. Educate employees on proper hydration practices and sun protection measures and enable them to adjust their work pace during high temperatures. Train employees to recognise heat stress symptoms and provide clear protocols for hydration, rest breaks and cooling down.

4. Develop robust heat response protocols: develop well-defined procedures for responding to heat-related illnesses, including first aid and emergency evacuation. Communicate these protocols effectively and ensure your workforce knows who to contact in case of a heat emergency.

5. Continuously review and update your response plans: conduct regular reviews of your organisation’s heat response plans to ensure they reflect the latest information and best practices for heat safety.


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