With the El Niño-affected weather reaching a record high heat index in recent days, Labor and Employment Secretary Rosalinda Dimapilis-Baldoz has issued safety and health measures advisory to prevent and control heat stress in the workplace.
“While we already have in place the Occupational and Safety Health Standards to safeguard workers’ social and economic well-being, as well as their physical safety and health, we issued this labor advisory as an additional reiteration for observing workplace welfare and protection, specifically to direct employers and establishments to mitigate the effect of extreme heat at work,” said Baldoz.
In the advisory, the Secretary has ordered the employers and establishments to assess the risk of exposure to health-related illness and determine needed protection and adjustment in work schemes.
“We are specifically issuing this heat stress prevention guidelines for the employers, establishments, and workers, especially those who are engaged in construction, fishing or in outdoor works and exposed to extreme heat for prolonged period,” said Baldoz.
The labor chief enjoined employers with heat-stress prone workers to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) for head, body, and extremities, such as appropriate hats, googles or ultraviolet rays protection eyewear, comfortable light material long-sleeve t-shirts with light or pastel hues.
“It is important, too, that the workers’ clothing must be made, for instance, of cotton fabric. Clothes with dark colors also absorb heat; it must not be worn when exposed to sun or heat during work,” added Baldoz.
As a preventive measure to reduce heat stress, prevent heat or sunstroke, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion, the advisory additionally directs employers and establishments to provide free supply of adequate drinking water near workstations. Workers are also advised to drink water more frequently.
“Employers and establishments must also establish an agreed flexible work-rest regimen or schedule to decrease the duration of exposure time to high temperature or strenuous work. Shaded structures with heat insulators and ventilations must also be made available, and ensure that acclimatization program for new or returning workers who have returned after an absence of three days or more be adopted,” said Baldoz.
The health and safety measure advisory also provides for the assessment of the health conditions of workers, especially those with hypertension and kidney ailment after being exposed to high temperatures and strenuous work activities.
“Establishments must develop awareness on how to address heat stress at the workplace, its effect, how to recognize heat-related symptoms, and how to prevent heat-induced illnesses,” said the Labor Secretary.
The advisory also provides measures to address heat-related emergency situations, such as administering first-aid medicines, moving the affected worker to shaded area in lying position with legs elevated; allowing the victim to sip cool drinking water as often as possible, removing unnecessary clothing; applying external cooling pads or cloth with ice packs in armpit, ankles, and groin area; and resorting to further medical management.
The employer or establishment, with the concurrence of the workers, may adopt alternative arrangements or temporary flexible work arrangement to adjust the work hours while maintaining the total number of work hours within the day or week until such time that the weather condition has improved, or as may be agreed upon.
As a reporting requirement, the concerned employer or establishment shall notify the DOLE, through its regional office which has jurisdiction over the workplace, of the adoption of the labor advisory.
The Secretary also encouraged the employers and establishments to make available to their workers other medical information materials on preventing and addressing emergency cases of heat stroke. “For instance, the Department of Health-produced infographics in English and Filipino about heatstroke, its causes, signs, prevention, and emergency measures, can be distributed by establishments to inform, educate, and communicate with the workers. They can be downloaded in the DOH website, and can be used as poster or leaflet material,” added Baldoz.
According to Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), heat index is a human discomfort indicator that gives the “apparent” temperature or what human perceive or feel as the temperature affecting their body. High air temperatures and high relative humidity will give high apparent temperatures or indices. Full exposure to sunshine can increase the heat index by 9°C.
PAGASA said the Human Discomfort Index that can be caused by a 27 – 32°C temperature is fatigue. This can happen with prolonged exposure and activity. Moreover, a continued activity under this temperature could result to heat cramps.
Extreme caution must be done when under 32 – 41°C temperature as heat cramps and heat exhaustion are possible. Continuing an activity under this situation could result to heat stroke.
A person is in danger when exposed to 41 – 54°C temperature as heat cramps and heat exhaustion are likely to happen, and heat stroke is probable with continued activity.
An over 54°C temperature is already extremely dangerous and heat stroke is imminent in this situation.
PAGASA recorded the highest temperature in Metro Manila so far this year at 36.3 degrees Celsius in the afternoon of 12 April. This is almost close to the hottest day ever recorded in Metro Manila on May 14, 1987 at 38.5 degrees Celsius.
The months of April and May are usually considered by PAGASA as hottest months of the year.