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Working in extreme heat conditions in the Middle East


Safeguarding Workforce Health in High Heat Conditions


Guidance for Health, Safety, and Environment Managers in the Middle East

As temperatures rise in regions such as the Middle East, parts of Asia, and other heat-prone areas around the globe, the health and wellbeing of the workforce become a paramount concern for Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE) bodies and leadership. In response to these concerns, some Middle Eastern countries, e.g. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have introduced new laws prohibiting outdoor work during peak heat hours

The scorching temperatures, often exceeding 45°C (113°F), pose significant health risks, including dehydration, heat stress, exhaustion, heat stroke and organ failure. These conditions, if not properly managed, can lead to severe health complications, increasing the likelihood of workplace accidents and disruptions. 

The impact of heat stress extends beyond the physical body, also affecting cognitive functions. High body temperatures can increase aggression, irritability, and negative interactions among team members, potentially resulting in poor decisions and unsafe working conditions. The psychological deterioration due to heat stress can impair one's ability to assess the consequences of their actions, increasing the risk of accidents and injuries. Therefore, educating the workforce about these psychological effects, implementing standard safety measures, and properly equipping facilities are crucial in preventing heat-related illnesses and maintaining a safe working environment. 

High temperatures also significantly impact the storage and safety of chemicals. Even common items, such as drinking water in plastic bottles, can lead to toxic chemicals release when exposed to elevated temperatures. Many medications, when exposed to high temperatures, become ineffective. This is especially important for critical or lifesaving medication which can then no longer perform their essential function when administered to a patient. Therefore, ensuring correct storage practices is essential to prevent accidents and improve safety. 

Leadership plays a critical role in preventing heat-related illnesses. Organisations must acknowledge that extreme heat can drastically impact operations, especially during summer months. Performance expectations should be adjusted accordingly to account for the impact of high temperatures on productivity and employee health. Implementing heat-related safety measures is not only a regulatory requirement, but also crucial for safeguarding the wellbeing of a workforce.  Employees' health and safety are paramount for any business's sustainability and success. 

Employers are responsible for providing their workforce with proper awareness, adequate hydration means, cool resting areas, and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to combat the effects of extreme heat. Hydration and acclimatisation are key strategies in managing heat stress. Increasing water intake and adding salt to the diet can help maintain hydration levels. Acclimatising to the heat by taking time to get used to it before doing strenuous activities is also important. 

Clothing and sun exposure also play a significant role in heat management. Wearing loose, light clothing in hot weather can help reflect heat, as dark clothing absorbs heat. It's also important to stay out of sunny, hot places, and seek shade whenever possible. 

Strategies for Mitigating the Impact of Extreme Heat

Managing heat stress is a significant challenge. However, with the right measures and a proactive approach, it can be effectively managed to ensure a safe and productive working environment as well as compliance with local regulations. Drawing on almost 40 years of experience, we have found that the following strategies help organisations ensure workforce safety, health, and wellbeing in the face of heatwaves and hot weather: 

  • Conducting heat-specific risk assessments: Regular evaluations of potential heat stress hazards across your operation are crucial. It’s important to identify locations and vulnerable workforce profiles most at risk, such as those with existing health conditions or who do strenuous outdoor work.
  • Integrating heat safety into existing health and safety programmes: Heat stress prevention should be a core component of your health and safety programmes. This includes training employees on recognising heat stress symptoms and providing clear protocols for hydration, rest breaks, and cooling down.
  • Promoting heat stress awareness and prevention measures: Specific training programmes that focus on working safely in extreme heat are essential. This includes educating employees on proper hydration practices, sun protection measures, and how to adjust work pace during high temperatures.
  • Developing robust heat response protocols: Clear and well-communicated procedures for responding to heat-related illnesses, including first aid and emergency evacuation, should be established. It’s important that your workforce knows who to contact in case of a heat emergency.
  • Continuously reviewing and updating your response plans: Regular reviews of your organisation’s heat response plans are necessary to ensure they reflect the latest knowledge and best practices for heat safety.
  • Providing mental health and wellbeing support: Resources and training should be developed to help employees cope with the psychological impact of extreme heat events. This includes offering access to mental health professionals to address potential anxiety or stress related to high temperatures. 
By prioritising the health and wellbeing of your workforce, you are not only protecting your most valuable asset – your people – but also building a resilient, productive, and successful business. Remember, the key to managing heat stress effectively is a combination of awareness, preparation, and action. Stay safe and keep cool!