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Effects on workers, health risks and how to protect yourself

Effects on workers, health risks and how to protect yourself

The increasing frequency of extreme weather events – even in our region of Umbria – is a fact: just open any recent newspaper and the fire pictures will be lost. However, the problem is not only of an ecological nature, but also of a social and economic nature. Global warming due to climate change has led to an increase in the phenomenon of “heat stress” in recent years, that is, the excess heat received by the body compared to what the body can tolerate without experiencing physiological damage.

Heat stress generally occurs at temperatures above 35°C and in conditions of high humidity. Excessive heat at work creates occupational health risks; It limits the functions and material capabilities of workers, work capacity and productivity. “Heat of exhaustion” occurs when body temperature exceeds 39°C: it is associated with lower work productivity, a higher prevalence of work-related errors and an increased risk of accidental work injuries. Heat stress also occurs when the body’s thermoregulatory system fails. Air temperature, rate of intense work, ventilation, humidity, and work clothes are all factors that can contribute to heat stress. Moreover, simultaneous exposure to urban air pollutants, particularly ozone, amplifies the effects of higher temperatures.

Workers in all sectors are exposed to this phenomenon, but occupations that require more physical effort and/or take place in the open air such as agriculture, forestry and fishing, but also construction activities, electrical system, operations in the gas and water network, transportation, and outdoor industries. Industrial workers working indoors are also at risk if temperature levels inside factories and workshops are not properly regulated. In high heat levels, even basic office tasks become difficult to perform and can lead to mental fatigue.

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The immediate effects of high temperatures on the health of workers are characterized by an increased feeling of fatigue, often due to severe dehydration, and a reduced ability to concentrate and react. In particular, the association between occupational exposure to extreme temperatures and risk of injury at work is of particular interest given that many work activities are carried out outdoors with complex and often heavy operations further exacerbated in summer because many materials must be handle at high temperatures; Moreover, in summer the probability of precipitation is less.

It is also indicated that working hours often include the hottest and brightest hours of the day with a high risk of heat stress (14:00 – 17:00) and many occupational activities require intense physical exertion often combined with the use of individual protection (Dpi) which, from By reducing the dispersion of body heat, it is another factor that exacerbates the effects of heat. In cases where the heat absorbed by the body is not sufficiently dissipated, heat stress occurs, the severity of which also depends on the level of acclimatization of the factor. For an objective assessment. One of the most common indicators used to assess whether and to what extent the conditions of the thermal environment can harm the health of the population. , is the use of a heat index, obtained from the measurement of ambient temperature (thermometer) and relative humidity (hygrometer), with reference to the table, developed by the French National Weather Service.

This index, by means of an algorithm whose results are reported in a simplified table, makes it possible to identify 4 levels of alertness: caution against possible fatigue that requires special attention to sensitive subjects – a score of 80-90; extreme caution, possible muscle cramps, physical exhaustion, with a degree of 90-104; risk of possible heat stroke, between 105 and 129; More than 130 leads to the risk of heat stroke. The risk is then evaluated by in the case of working in the sun, the index given by the data table should be increased by 15. For example, in the case of temperature 30 ° C and relative humidity 60%, the heat index index given from the data table would be 89 ( warning). In case of exposure to direct solar radiation it will be 89 + 15 = 104 (extreme caution / risk of heat stroke)

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What do the estimates say? According to forecasts, in 2030, between 2.2% and 3.8% of working hours will be lost due to heat stress – the equivalent of 80-136 million full-time jobs, respectively. Since global warming is very likely to continue beyond 2030, large increases in temperature are expected to further reduce labor productivity. Economic losses from occupational heat stress were estimated at $280 billion in 1995. This figure is expected to rise to $2.4 trillion in 2030, with a greater impact in low- and middle-income countries.

What can he do? Moreover, the spread of so-called “urban heat islands,” areas where heat is concentrated within cities as a result of an increasing number of urban areas, will intensify the impact of heat waves, exacerbating the risks to workers. Concretely and immediately, the advice is: prevent dehydration by consuming fresh water regularly, regardless of thirst stimuli; wear light, breathable, light-colored, comfortable cotton clothing, and always wear a head covering (do not work with bare skin); cool down by bathing in fresh water; work in areas less exposed to the sun; take breaks and rest in cool places; It is important to avoid working alone.

In general, the world’s response to global warming should include: policies to adapt to climate change and measures to protect workers from these conditions; a global strategy to mitigate climate change and limit rising temperatures; structural reforms to help agricultural workers move to other sectors; and measures to address climate risks.

Among the possible solutions being studied to prevent the risks of exposure to hot environments, a line of research is directed to the development of new garments based on local cooling technologies built into the garments themselves, with the aim of being able to remove heat from the garments. body surface, reducing any accumulation in the body and reducing central overheating, which is necessary to ensure the health of the worker.

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To keep abreast of the latest developments, the national operating system to predict and prevent the effects of heat on health, coordinated by the Ministry of Health with the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (Ccm), has been activated again this year. The operating system allows central coordination of local prevention activities and activation of the national system for forecasting / forecasting heat waves, called the Health Heat Warning System: a tool that allows you to modify preventive interventions based on levels of climate risk and which, at least 72 hours in advance, is expected to arrive in a vulnerable climate situation on health.