Companies in Qatar have been alerted to ensure workforce safety amid severe heatwaves. As heatwaves become more intense globally, they pose extreme health and safety risks, particularly for workers. 

International SOS, a global leader in health, security risk management and well-being solutions, operating through EMSA Qatar, issued the warning as heatwaves expected to become more severe.

Almost half of the global population, including over one billion workers, 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.

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 heat.

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. 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.

In Qatar, the Ministry of Labour prohibits outdoor working from 10 am to 3:30 pm until 15 September 2024. The ban enforcement is as per the Ministerial Resolution No. 17 of 2021 regarding the necessary precautions to protect workers from the dangers of heat stress during summer.

Dr Ehab Chalabie, Medical Director, Medical Services, Middle East at International SOS, highlights the increasing intensity and frequency of heatwaves as 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.’

Dr Chalabie underscores the importance of distinguishing stages of heat-related illness. Heatstroke, the most severe form, requires immediate medical attention due to its potential for long-term consequences. ‘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,’ Dr Chalabie added.

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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