Firefighters rest during wildfires, near the industrial zone of the central Greek city of Volos on July 27, 2023. Greek fire crews on July 27, 2023, scrambled to put out wildfires raging for two weeks around the country that left five dead before strong winds forecast for the day rekindle blazes. LEHTIKUVA / AFP

International news

The month of July has shattered records, emerging as the hottest ever recorded, as stated by the UN's World Meteorological Organization. This alarming trend is causing more than just discomfort; it poses significant challenges for countries striving to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 8, which aims for sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.

Nicolas Maître, an esteemed economist at the ILO, revealed that rising temperatures have far-reaching consequences on work productivity. The adverse effects begin at temperatures above 24-26 degrees Celsius (75-79 degrees Fahrenheit), and in physically demanding jobs, such as agriculture and construction, worker performance can plummet by up to 50% at 33-34°C (91-93°F). Shockingly, these effects can manifest even in shaded environments and workplaces lacking adequate air conditioning, putting numerous workers at risk.

Agriculture takes the hardest hit, accounting for 60% of the global productivity decline caused by climate change. Nevertheless, all physically demanding jobs that require employees to work outdoors under the blazing sun for extended hours or while donning protective clothing are susceptible to heat stress.

To combat the escalating problem, Maître emphasized the urgency of implementing effective heat-reducing measures. These include increasing the number of breaks, ensuring access to water, adapting working hours, and rotating workers. Moreover, adapting workers' clothing, promoting regular hydration, and conducting routine health checks can significantly alleviate heat-related stress.

Maître stressed the importance of recognizing regional variations in the severity of the issue. While temperate countries face challenges primarily during summer heatwaves, for Southeast Asia, heat stress is a year-round ordeal. Thus, adaptation measures must be tailored to suit the unique circumstances of each region.

The government's role in implementing these measures cannot be understated. Governments not only need to trigger situational adaptation measures but also establish a regulatory framework to address the problem of heat stress. Though implementation might incur costs, the price of lost productivity far outweighs these expenses.

In conclusion, the rise of heatwaves poses a grave threat to workers' health, safety, and productivity on a global scale. Urgent action is required to safeguard the well-being of workers and to secure sustainable economic growth. Governments, industries, and communities must unite to adopt effective measures that protect workers from the debilitating effects of extreme heat, ensuring a safer and more productive future for all.