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15:22 25 Jul 2022

Trade unions call for a max working temperature cap for outdoor workers

Trade unions called for the European Commission to impose maximum temperature limits for outdoor workers, Euractiv reports.

While a handful of member states have laws limiting working hours in extreme heat, many nations have no nationwide heat limits.

According to research by the Eurofound polling agency, 23% of all EU workers spend a quarter of their time working while exposed to high temperatures.

This figure rises to 36% in agriculture and industry and 38% for construction workers.

Previous studies have linked high temperatures to several chronic diseases and an increased risk of workplace injuries.

"Workers are on the frontline of the climate crisis every day, and they need protection to match the ever-increasing danger from extreme temperatures," said Claes-Mikael Stahl, deputy secretary general of the European Trade Union Confederation.

Unions say most EU countries have no legislation on maximum workplace temperatures, although Belgium, Hungary, and Latvia have some restrictions on activity.

In France, where there are currently no workplace temperature limits, 12 workers died from heat exposure in 2020 alone, the union said. In Spain, where three workers died in extreme heat last week, temperature limits are in place, but only for certain professions.

For example, on July 23 in Madrid, a 60-year-old street cleaner on a one-month contract died of heatstroke while working. A 56-year-old warehouse worker in a Madrid suburb also died on Saturday after suffering heatstroke while working.

Last week, Madrid negotiated with unions to limit manual street cleaning work to temperatures below 39°C.

The global average temperature has increased by more than 1.1°C since the pre-Industrial era.

Scientists say the deadly heatwaves will occur more often and will be more intense with increasingly high levels of carbon pollution in the atmosphere.

This year, the UN climate science panel warned that tens of millions more people will suffer from extreme heat at 2°C of warming; at the same time, it is assumed the Earth will warm up by 2.7°C in the future.

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