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Heat, dust and other challenges facing construction in Summer

India's construction workers face severe health risks as the summer heat intensifies.

Employers need to take action to combat heat stress by allowing frequent water breaks, limiting exposure, and providing restrooms and fans at work locations.

In India, heat waves are become increasingly common and intense. The Indian Meteorological Department stated that instead of the typical four to eight days of heatwaves, 10 to 20 days are anticipated between April and June. The people most impacted by rising temperatures and humidity due to climate change will be those in the construction industry. Their health will suffer from working in the sun, which will affect their income.

An Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar survey conducted in Ahmedabad throughout the summer revealed that almost 60% of construction workers suffer from mild to severe heat-related illnesses. Additionally, a study conducted in India by Duke University researchers located in North Carolina found that exposure to midday heat might result in productivity losses of up to 20 minutes per hour.

Seventy daily-wage building and other construction workers participated in a March 3 HeatWatch and Aajeevika Bureau/Work Fair and Free Foundation discussion in Pune. The discussion focused on the difficulties these workers faced while working in extremely hot conditions, including profuse perspiration, dry throats, severe thirst, leg cramps and spasms, and skin irritation. These are common workplace difficulties that get worse in the summer.

The main issue raised by the participants was their lack of access to clean water. This has raised the possibility of health issues linked to dehydration. Additionally, participants reported almost little relief from 12 to 3 p.m., with the possible exception of an hour-long lunch break.

Workers who were exposed to intense heat and direct sunlight reported seeing other labourers pass out or become dizzy.

In addition to being paid equally, women workers are disproportionately affected by the excessive heat for two reasons: first, a shortage of restrooms has made it common for women to become dehydrated and hold pee, which exacerbates health issues. Two, women who have caregiving obligations in their homes may find it difficult to implement the option of moving work hours to the early morning or late evening to escape the afternoon peak heat hours.

The Maharashtra Building & Other Construction Workers (Regulations of Employment & Conditions of Services) Rules 2007 mandate that employers keep washing areas, urinals and latrines clean and sanitary. Comprehensive health and safety policies are also listed in the regulations, although they are only required for businesses with 50 or more employees.

The event's testimonials demonstrated that workers at small-scale, contractual, and subcontractual construction sites are not covered by official safeguards and are at serious risk for serious health problems when there are heat waves or other high heat conditions.

The discussion also highlighted how common health issues that construction workers face, which are related to their working environment, including kidney stones, fungus infections, and respiratory disorders. These results highlight the critical need for occupational health and safety regulations that are adapted to the unique requirements of informal construction workers, as well as for comprehensive healthcare assistance.

It is clear from the conversation's aftermath that being aware of the dangers associated with heat is insufficient. It is critical to acknowledge the difficulties that intense heat poses for construction workers as well as their entitlement to heat protection. Employers and legislators must take two approaches to responding to heat-related emergencies: they must put in place first aid protocols and provide workers with the knowledge and skills necessary to minimise the effects of extreme heat, such as drinking water hourly, eating a healthy diet, and covering their heads.

Second, in order to enhance regular working conditions, companies need to provide protective gear that blocks radiant heat and promotes air circulation. This goes beyond emergency response. Along with offering showers, restrooms, clean water, and adequate sanitation, they also need to impose rest periods throughout the hottest parts of the day.

Long-standing requests from the construction workforce for rearranged working hours that begin earlier in the day must be implemented. In order to lessen worker heat stress, work locations also need to provide fans and shelters.

Gender inequality must also be addressed, and an inclusive workplace where all employees feel empowered to stand up for their rights must be established. When combined, these behaviours are critical to reducing the likelihood of illness and enhancing general wellbeing.

The labour secretary ordered construction businesses to adjust work hours and provide sufficient rest periods in 2023, but the reality on the ground hasn't improved in the absence of tough enforcement and fines.

Occupational safety and health regulations at construction sites might be conceptualised and enforced with assistance from the Maharashtra Building and Construction Worker Welfare Board, the Directorate of Industrial Safety & Health, the Confederation of Real Estate Developers' Associations of India, and industry specialists.

The health and livelihoods of construction workers and other workers engaged in outdoor activities are at risk if prompt and decisive action is not taken.

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