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Heat-health warning system planned for Abu Dhabi

Workers in the Middle East in construction, oil and gas and agriculture face significant risks from extreme summer heat, which often exceeds 50°C Cenomi
Workers in the Middle East in construction, oil and gas and agriculture face significant risks from extreme summer heat, which often exceeds 50°C
  • Official heat stress index due
  • Drive to raise awareness of dangers
  • Investment in safety ‘still lags’

Abu Dhabi is to develop an official heat-stress index and a national heat-health warning system as rising temperatures threaten public health and businesses.

The Abu Dhabi Public Health Centre has issued a tender for an index tailored to the UAE’s unique climate conditions, occupational settings, and the physiological differences among its diverse population. 

The UAE and wider region’s outdoor work-related industries, such as construction, oil and gas, and agriculture, face significant risks from extreme summer heat, which often exceeds 50°C, with 90 percent humidity. 

These conditions can badly affect workers’ health and productivity.

The tender emphasises the need for greater practical awareness among employers and health, safety, and environment (HSE) personnel about heat stress risks and protective measures, noting that ignorance can lead to heat illness, heat stroke, and death.

The proposed index will use the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) method which combines measurements of temperature, humidity, radiant heat, and air movement. 

New data this week from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service shows that the average global temperature has been 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for 12 consecutive months, marking the hottest June on record and the 13th straight month of record-setting temperatures.

A study published in the medical journal The Lancet last year indicated that the average annual heat-related death rate across the Middle East and North Africa is currently two per 100,000 people. This number, the tender stated, could potentially soar to 123.4 per 100,000 by 2100 without effective climate policies.

To combat the effects of extreme heat, the UAE enforces a midday break rule, prohibiting outdoor work from 12:30pm to 3pm between June 15 and September 15, a policy mirrored by other Gulf states. 

Despite these measures, extreme temperatures continue to pose serious health risks. 

Abu Dhabi government data from 2017 to 2022 shows a considerable increase in heat-related illness cases visiting emergency departments during summer, with peaks in July and August.

In Saudi Arabia, hundreds died, and thousands suffered from heat stress during intense high temperatures at this year’s Hajj pilgrimage, where temperatures sometimes exceeded 51°C. 

Last month it was reported that the state oil giant Saudi Aramco had introduced advanced safety helmets with heat stress sensors to protect workers on construction sites, underscoring the need for innovative solutions in the Gulf’s scorching climate.

But Ishita Sood, COO and co-founder of WakeCap Technologies, the company that makes the helmets, said that despite the construction industry’s growing inclination towards technology, investment in safety features still lags.  

“Owners and contractors don’t really invest a lot in safety solutions,” she said. 

“They do only what’s required to fulfill their standards, and nothing additional.”

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