Climate Change

Extreme heat is forcing Spain’s outside workers to shift their hours

Extreme heat in Spain has led to the country banning workers based outside from doing their jobs in the heat of the day.

Extreme heat in Spain has led to the country banning workers based outside from doing their jobs in the heat of the day. Image: Unsplash/pueblovista

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Spain has banned some outside work during extreme temperatures.
  • Other countries, including those in the Gulf, already have similar bans in place to avoid the worst of the heat.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023 identifies the climate crisis as one the biggest risks the world faces.

Extreme heat in Spain has led to the country banning workers based outside from doing their jobs in the heat of the day.

Street cleaners and those working in agriculture are among those who will be prevented from working when there is a severe or extreme risk of high temperatures.

Spain is suffering from a prolonged drought and intense heat and the government says the time has come to act as the effects of climate change are already being felt by people.

Figure illustrating the working hours lost to heat stress by subregion.
2.2% of working hours will be lost to heat stress by 2030. Image: International Labour Organization

"We have already seen many episodes, certainly very serious ones, in cleaning and waste collection in which workers have died from heat stroke," Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz said.

Last year, the extreme heat seen throughout Europe led to almost 62,000 deaths, with over 11,000 of those in Spain.

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Spain has already recorded several days of above-normal temperatures this year, and has a number of measures in place to try and mitigate the worst of the heat. In some places including Andalusia and Madrid, students are permitted to go home earlier during heatwaves, for example.

Extreme heat will have a significant impact on global GDP by 2030.
Extreme heat will have a significant impact on global GDP by 2030. Image: International Labour Organization

A change in working patterns

Research suggests that contrary to what you might expect, some of the cooler countries in Europe might have the most trouble keeping cool. Structures in countries like the UK, Norway and Switzerland, for example, are designed to retain heat and are less well prepared for hot weather. This means they are more likely than some other places to need to adapt their cooling needs, scientists say.

One way to avoid the worst of the heat could be to adapt working hours. This might include working four-day weeks, shorter hours, or different shift patterns to cut down on commuting time during the heat, for example.

Countries including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman already prevent workers from doing their jobs outside during the worst of the heat, for about four hours from midday.

Elsewhere, individual companies and organizations have already taken the decision to adapt working patterns in extreme heat conditions.

Heat stress is projected to reduce total working hours worldwide by 2.2% and global GDP by $2,400 billion by 2030, according to the International Labour Organization.

Global Risks Report 2023
The climate crisis is the biggest risk for the world in the next 10 years. Image: World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023 identifies failure to mitigate the effects of climate change as the biggest risk facing the world in the next decade. And, in fact, the top 10 risks for the world immediately and in the next 10 years are dominated by the environment, with many issues tied to the climate crisis.

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Related topics:
Climate ChangeFuture of the EnvironmentFuture of Work
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