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Rising temperatures put outdoor workers' lives at risk

ABU DHABI // Rising temperatures and an increase in air pollution will put the lives of outdoor workers at risk in the coming years.

The UAE Climate Change Risk and Resilience report published by the Emirates Wildlife Society with the WWF, predicted that higher heat and humidity will endanger health and decrease productivity.

The report forecast global economic losses through decreased productivity of up to US$2 trillion, or Dh7.34tn, by 2030, the report said.

Outdoor employees would slow their pace, take longer breaks and shift their work to cooler dusk and dawn hours.

The rest of the population would also be affected. The elderly, very young, socially isolated, poor, and those suffering from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases would feel the effects most, the report said.

It is predicted that temperatures will be 2°C higher by 2050 and humidity will be up 10 per cent.

With the current temperatures in the summer reaching up to 50°C, health problems are already a challenge for the building industry.

Benjamin Omoziku, a safety engineer at a site on Abu Dhabi’s Reem Island, said there were up to 12 cases of heat exhaustion every day at his site last summer, prompting his company to bring in a site nurse.

“We need to be extra cautious during summer to ensure our workers are safe. Already conditions are really bad,” Mr Omoziku said.

Despite having cold water on each floor, not more than two hours of work under direct sunlight and the mandatory three-hour midday break, the heat still takes its toll on building workers.

“Because of the harsh weather, workers lose a lot of salt, which also causes a loss of energy,” Mr Omoziku said.

“Last year in the summer we saw up to 12 cases of heat exhaustion every day and we have a clinic and nurse on site to deal with these immediately.”

“The weather is getting worse every year and conditions are becoming bad for workers, in which case we will have to limit workers’ exposure during summer, increase the number, reduce their hours, give them regular breaks and create schedules that make sure the same workers are not exposed to heat continuously.”

Dr Soha El Baz, a specialist in emergency medicine at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said it is not just outdoor workers that are affected.

“Headaches, fatigue, inability to work – all these are very common issues already among outdoor workers in the UAE,” Dr Soha said. “We have people suffering heat exhaustion daily during the summer, although the number of heat strokes have reduced.”

“Although less common among the general public, at least 15 per cent of the heat-related health cases we get at the hospital are not labourers or outdoor workers. The heat affects everyone.”

An increase in air pollution, predicted by the report, will also have a significant effect on the general population, particularly those with asthma and other respiratory problems.

“High humidity and an increase in air pollution means the number of patients coming in with acute exacerbation – which is episodes of shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest tightness – is also likely to increase,” Dr Soha said.

“Any exposure to dust will cause an attack, and worse-case scenario, patients will have to come to the hospital emergency to be treated through a nebuliser.”

A sandstorm that hit the country in April last year led to an increase in the number of patients admitted to hospitals, with some having to increase staff to cope with the influx of patients suffering asthma attacks, and victims of car crashes caused by the poor visibility.

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The National