Heat wave: European unions want a law on the maximum temperature at work

Posted Jul 25, 2022, 8:36 AMUpdated on Jul 25, 2022 at 12:03 PM

At the heart of a summer when Europe has already suffered two periods of heat wave, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) is pleading on Monday for the adoption of a law which would set a maximum temperature at work on the continent.

“Two workers died of heat stroke in Spain last week. In France, a country that does not cap temperatures at work, 12 people died of heat-related work accidents in 2020, ”notes the ETUC in a press release. The balance sheet even increased Thursday in Spain, the emergency services of the Madrid region having announced the death “due to heat stroke” of a man who distributed leaflets in mailboxes.

No European unity

“Across the European Union, 23% of workers are exposed to high temperatures for at least a quarter” of their working time, a percentage that rises to 36% in the sectors of agriculture and industry and 38% in construction according to figures from the Eurofound agency.

However, “only a handful of European countries have legislation intended to protect workers during heat waves”, with “great variations” from one state to another. According to the unions affiliated to the ETUC, Belgian workers whose jobs are physically demanding cannot work when the temperature exceeds 22°C. The limit is set 5°C higher in Hungary for the same type of work, while Slovenia caps the temperature at 28°C in all workplaces.

Towards European legislation?

However, according to the World Health Organization, the optimal working temperature is between 16 and 24°C. “Workers are on the front line of the climate crisis every day, they need adequate protections,” warns ETUC Deputy General Secretary Claes-Mikael Stahl. “Weather conditions do not care about national borders. This is why we need EU-wide legislation on maximum temperatures at work,” he continued in the statement.

The heat wave that hit Western Europe in mid-July killed more than 500 people in Spain and broke many temperature records in France, the United Kingdom and Denmark. The multiplication of heat waves is a direct consequence of the climate crisis according to scientists, with greenhouse gas emissions increasing in intensity, duration and frequency.

Heat wave, heat wave: what’s the difference?

With AFP

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