Researchers urge vigilance and shorter hours due to the potential effects of intense heat on outdoor workers

Researchers have warned of the potentially harmful impact of rising temperatures on outdoor workers in the construction, agricultural, and other industries as the nation prepares for excessive heat in the April–June timeframe.

According to the India Meteorological Department, most of the nation is projected to see above-normal maximum temperatures between April and June of this year, with the western and central peninsulas predicted to be most affected.

The majority of the plains are probably going to have above-average hot days, it warned.

In response to the bad weather alert, scientists are pushing for creative approaches to working outside, such as required breaks and flexible scheduling, in order to assist employees in adjusting to the impacts of heat and rising humidity levels brought on by climate change.

Dry heat is more manageable in comparison. Evaporation occurs when we consume water as our bodies heat up, causing our bodies to cool down. But in humid temperatures, evaporation decreases due to high air moisture content, which interferes with the body’s natural cooling process “Vimal Mishra, Vikram Sarabhai Chair Professor, IIT Gandhinagar, said PTI.

“Doing intensive labour in such conditions can raise body heat to a level where it can also cause mortality,” he said.

According to an international research looking at how tropical heat affects outdoor workers, with every degree Celsius of further warming, around 800 million people would live in places where they will need to reduce their hours of hard labor by more than half throughout the year.

That is, according to Mishra, a co-author of the study, “one degree Celsius of additional warming, heat, and humidity, will hinder the ability of one in eight people living in the tropics to safely work (outdoors) during most daylight hours,” as she put it in a comment for Nature India, an online nature portfolio publication.

The US-based Paul G. Allen Family Foundation co-led the research, which was published in the journal One Earth in March 2024.

The report claims that while heat and humidity levels in the tropics have been shown to be closer than ever to human tolerance limits, the globe is getting closer to exceeding the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement.

Due to their huge working-age populations—which are expected to grow in the next decades—as well as their heavy dependence on forestry, agriculture, and fisheries, outdoor workers in Africa and Asia are most likely to be affected by the more humid weather, according to the authors.

An further research, carried out in Tamil Nadu and released in October of last year, showed that high heat exposure at work more than doubled the chance of miscarriage for expectant mothers, with heat exposure generally increasing the likelihood of unfavorable pregnancy and delivery outcomes.

We also noticed that the ladies had malnourished due to reduced food and drink intake as a consequence of restricted access to restrooms. Pregnancy outcomes may also be impacted by this, according to Vidhya Venugopal, the corresponding author of the research and a professor at the Sri Ramachandra Institute of Higher Education and Research in Chennai’s Faculty of Public Health, who spoke with PTI.

Of the 800 pregnant women evaluated in the research, 47% had worked outside in hot conditions.

According to the report, 2.6% of women exposed to heat within permissible limits gave birth to stillborn and preterm infants, while 6.1% of women exposed to excessive heat did so.

Furthermore, the “first-of-its-kind” research to be carried out in India discovered that 8.4% of the women exposed to high heat levels gave birth to low-weight infants, compared to 4.5% of the women subjected to safe heat levels.

The British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology publishes it.

“Pregnant women generate internal heat due to hormones, which is enhanced by the external heat.” As a result, when these women perspire in the hot weather, more blood flows to their organs and less to the fetus, impeding the fetus’s growth and development, according to Venugopal.

According to Mishra, susceptible tropical outdoor workers might face more intense heat in the future along with more noticeable negative effects if adaption measures were not put in place.

The researchers advocated increasing the self-awareness and agency in decision-making of outdoor workers in order to empower them.

We advise employees to stay away from working under difficult situations. We also recommend cutting down on working hours and modifying your schedule to better suit the outside environment. We also encourage employees to take breaks, which employers may also require,” Mishra said.

Venugopal said that basic healthcare facilities may have a significant impact and that outdoor women workers should be made more aware of the negative health impacts of intense heat.

“The women may be made aware of the negative effects of intense heat on their own and their unborn child’s health by visiting primary healthcare facilities, which they frequent throughout their pregnancy.

The consequences of intense heat on outdoor women workers may be lessened by the government implementing such measures, the speaker stated.

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