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Recognise early signs of heat stress, says International SOS

In the UAE, heat stress is a persistent issue for outdoor workers, especially during summer when temperatures can soar up to 50°C. (Image source: International SOS)


International SOS has advised UAE companies to prioritise workforce safety as global heat waves are predicted to intensify.

Workers face significant dangers in extreme heat conditions, such as heatstroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion. These risks can reduce productivity, increase accidents, and result in fatalities. Each year, excessive heat contributes to 22.85 million occupational injuries and 18,970 work-related deaths.

In the UAE, heat stress is a persistent issue for outdoor workers, especially during summer when temperatures can soar up to 50°C. To address this, the Ministry of Labour has enforced a nationwide ban on outdoor work from 12:30 PM to 3:00 PM during summer months.

The Ministry also requires employers to clearly display working hours and provide rest areas with drinking water, first aid kits, and sun protection measures. In 2023, nearly 95.5% of employers complied with this ban, thanks to stringent inspections.

Various sectors are affected by extreme weather, with certain jobs being at higher risk due to physical demands and outdoor conditions. Indoor industrial workers are also vulnerable if factory and workshop temperatures are not properly regulated.

Warmer temperatures expected

High heat levels can make even basic office tasks challenging, leading to mental fatigue and reduced cognitive abilities. Excessive heat exposure poses serious health risks, including heatstroke and potentially death. Organisations must take proactive measures to mitigate these risks and ensure the well-being and productivity of their workforce.

Dr Ehab Chalabie, medical director, medical services, Middle East, International SOS, said, “...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 has provided guidelines for organisations to mitigate health risks from extreme heat events. These include conducting regular heat-specific risk assessments to identify high-risk areas and vulnerable employees. Organisations should integrate heat safety into their health and safety policies by providing shaded areas, hydration stations, and appropriate workwear. Training employees on heat stress awareness, proper hydration, sun protection, and recognising symptoms is crucial. Developing and communicating robust response protocols for heat-related illnesses is also recommended.

Additionally, organisations should continuously review and update their heat response plans to ensure they reflect the latest best practices. These measures aim to protect the workforce from the dangers of extreme heat, maintaining productivity and ensuring employee well-being.