Does Europe need a maximum temperature for work?
The average global temperature between 2012 and 2021 was 1.11 to 1.14°C warmer than the pre-industrial level, which makes it the warmest decade on record.
In Europe, temperatures have increased at an even faster rate. In the same period, it’s estimated that the continent was 1.94 to 1.99°C warmer in the same time period.
This means that Europe has been hit by more and more record-breaking heatwaves. In recent weeks, there have been major wildfires in France, Spain, Italy, and Greece, and the temperature in London was recorded as higher than 40°C for the first time on record.
Scientists say that global heating will continue, and deadly heatwaves could become more common and more intense as levels of atmospheric carbon pollution continue to rise.
However, the recent heat has highlighted the fact that parts of Europe are ill-equipped to deal with the new reality of extreme weather, and trade unions have called for the European Commission to impose maximum temperature limits for all outdoor workers.
Calls for a maximum working temperature cap
After three people died while working outdoors in Madrid during last week’s heatwave, trade unions are urging officials to introduce a maximum working temperature in Europe.
Only a handful of EU countries currently have legislation to limit working hours in extreme heat. The thresholds in these countries vary, and many have no nationwide limits.
Belgium, Hungary, and Latvia all have some restrictions on working in the heat. However, in most countries, there are no limits. The union used France, which has no working temperature limits, as an example, pointing out that 12 workers died due to heat exposure in 2020.
In Spain, which only has temperature limits for certain professions, three workers died due to extreme heat last week as temperatures reached nearly 40°C.
According to Eurofound, 23% of EU workers are exposed to high temperatures a quarter of the time, and this rises to 36% and 38% in the agriculture and construction industries.
As exposure to high temperatures is linked to a higher risk of workplace injuries, trade unions are calling for better protection for workers against extreme temperatures.