Europe is in the middle of a stifling heatwave. It started in Spain and Portugal, where a forest fire killed more than 60 people.
Local temperatures in the French department of Landes have nudged towards the 40C mark during daytime and have remained above 20C at night. This can be problematic for certain sections of the population, such as children, pregnant women or the elderly.
How do different European countries deal with this phenomenon and what strategies do they put in place to protect their citizens?
A project was launched at the European level by the World Trade Organisation and co-financed by the European Commission.
Called EuroHeat, this program, which was operational between 2005 and 2007, made it possible to provide recommendations and tools, such as a forecast map of heat-wave risk in Europe.
On 19 June, the European Committee of the Regions, the representative body of local and regional authorities in the various member states of the European Union, sent a memo to its teams to protect themselves against heat.
It recommended that staff:
• Turn off lights
• To leave their places of work at 16.00 if the heat was too high
• Not wear suits and ties
• Not to consume alcohol
Following the heatwave of 2003 which saw the deaths of more than 19,000 people, France instigated a prevention plan. Four levels of alert were put in place:
• Seasonal watch
• Heat warning
• Heat wave alert (orange alert issued by France Météo)
• General mobilsation (red alert)
Legislation concerning working conditions also provides for measures to be taken to ensure the health of workers and employees.
The temperature must therefore be “acceptable” in the workplace, but no temperature threshold has been established.
The only obligation is that water must be available everywhere. Three litres per day per person, in the case of employees working outside for example.
The official texts also make recommendations to companies, such as the presence of fans, shutters or blinds on windows, the setting of shaded areas or the installation of air conditioning.
Measures concerning work rhythms are also suggested (change of working hours, more breaks and less manual work, etc.)
— OnlyInParis (@OnlyNParis) 21 June 2017
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For the population as a whole, the authorities recommend:
- Moisten and cool the body
- Close the shutters to cool the house during the day
- keep in touch with loved ones
- Drink a lot but no alcohol
- No physical exertion
There is no specific legislation on what to do in the event of a heat wave in the UK.
The Health and Safety Executive, the public authority responsible for occupational safety and health, recommends several points in the event of severe heat.
If no maximum threshold has been stopped, the temperature should remain “acceptable” for employees at their workplace.
A minimum threshold is recommended: 16C or 13C for physical activities.
The air that is breathed in companies must be “clean and fresh”. Finally, employees can alert their hierarchy if they feel the temperature is too high.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC), the federative organisation of the British trade unions, also recommends: light clothing, fresh drinks and frequent breaks.
Different measures exist in Germany. The temperature should not exceed 26 ° in the workplace, but this is only a recommendation. On the other hand, in the event of high heat, employees must be able to adapt their working time by shifting their schedule in the morning or evening. Frequent breaks should be possible. Employees can install a fan on their workstation, but must ask their supervisor for permission. Pregnant or nursing mothers or impaired people may ask to leave their offices sooner and even stay home.
Student pupils may also be exempt from classes in the event of a wave of high heat. The decision rests with the authorities of each region. If no measures exist at the federal level, the schools may decide whether or not to send students home. Generally, this measure is applied when the temperature of the classrooms exceeds 27 °. Finally, the speed allowed on some motorways can be reduced to 80 km/h (50mph).
Italians can refuse to work if the temperature is too high, but also too low, at their workplace. The health of employees is protected by article 2087 of the Civil Code and a legislative decree of 2008 even requires the employer to assess the potential risks that may affect the health of its employees. Finally, a decision of the Court of Cassation of 2015 authorises the employees not to go to work in the event of problems related to the conditions of work; The employer is required to provide appropriate conditions at the workplace.
Three levels of alert have been established in Hungary. The highest is triggered when the outside temperature exceeds 27C for three consecutive days. In the event that this alert is triggered by the authorities:
• The media must cooperate in publishing this alert
• If employees do not have the opportunity to take a special day off, they can take more frequent breaks (10-15 minutes per hour) in cooler places than their workstations.
• Employers must provide significant amounts of water.
• Employers must also ensure that the temperature in their premises does not exceed 21/24C for lightly physical activities and 17/19C for very physical activities.
During the heat peaks, water bottles are distributed by the national railway company to train passengers. Other national companies do so also. Sometimes volunteers distribute water freely in large cities. Finally, museums, libraries and other institutions, which are often cooler than apartments and houses, are open longer and welcome more public, so that everyone can refresh themselves. Last point, one of the symbols of the country, the public baths remain open until late hours.
Different measures exist in Greece. When the temperature is too high, special attention is given to the population which is likely to suffer the most from the heat. Seniors over the age of 65 suffering from chronic diseases (such as heart disease, kidney, lung, liver disease, diabetes) are particularly targeted. High heat can act as an aggravating factor on these pathologies and lead to coma or even death.
• People suffering from respiratory or cardiovascular diseases are strongly urged to stay at home and not to move
• Strenuous physical activity should be avoided. And this for the whole population to avoid any respiratory problem
• Local public services must develop the development of “air-conditioned public areas” open to all in their premises
• The media of the country should participate by disseminating these recommendations as much as possible
• The authorities may also take measures to change working hours in the public sector, but also in the private sector