Author: Lisa Buggy, COHED
Construction workers in Da Nang, Vietnam working under direct sunlight in hot and humid conditions. Photo: COHED, 2015
The deadly impacts of rising temperatures
The World Meteorological Organization has announced that 2015 was the hottest year on record. This would come as no surprise to a number of countries in the South and South East Asia region that felt the full brunt of extreme temperatures and intense heat waves this past year. Most prominently, India and Pakistan experienced some of the deadliest heat waves on record. These events killed thousands of people, particularly construction workers, farm labourers and the elderly. Vietnam also experienced three record-high temperature heat waves between May and June, an unprecedented number of heat waves within such a short space of time. This highlights the pressing need to consider the impacts of temperature rise over the coming years and not only for crop production. Significant productivity loss is also likely due to the health impacts on workers exposed to extreme heat conditions, including those working outdoors in direct sunlight and in poorly ventilated workplaces.
Recent research has started to shine a spotlight on the effects of heat exposure on workers, particularly the research undertaken for the “Hothaps” program and available through the ClimateCHIP website. However for many countries, data, research and knowledge are still scarce. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly evident that rising temperatures due to climate change are escalating the risks for low-income, informal and migrant workers specifically, and for agriculture, fisheries and construction workers more generally . In many developing and middle-income countries, current labour laws do not provide adequate protection for workers  and knowledge and awareness of the risks of extreme heat are low . Furthermore, the risk of heat stress is exacerbated by a lack of health insurance and social protection.
Training workshops and visual messaging have been designed to increase the knowledge of enterprise workers on heat stress, its impacts on health and appropriate personal and organisational preventive measures. Photo: COHED, 2015
Partnering to improve the resilience of workers
The Center for Community Health and Development (COHED) in partnership with ISET International, the Provincial Department and National Ministry of Labor Invalids and Social Affairs in Vietnam and three private enterprises have been working together for over two years to help improve the resilience of workers to heat stress in Da Nang city, Vietnam. Vietnam has experienced an increase in mean annual temperature of 0.4 °C since 1960, with an expected increase by 0.8-2.7°C by 2060 . The number of heat waves observed in Vietnam is rising nationwide, especially in the central region . Like many cities in Asia, Da Nang is undergoing rapid urbanisation and population growth. When factoring in urban heat island effects[a], by 2050 the heat index[b] during the day in Da Nang will continually average above 40°C during May through to September . This has significant implications for the large numbers of exposed workers in a myriad of occupations.
COHED has been working closely with construction and manufacturing enterprises in Da Nang, with the aim of helping protect the livelihoods of low-income workers. A key focus of this project has been providing information and raising awareness, as well as highlighting preventive actions to help increase the resilience of workers to heat stress. A number of practical actions have been implemented including training workshops for both management and workers and other key messaging campaigns. For example, a morning broadcast program has been implemented at a large construction site, delivering key messages to workers every morning before their shifts on the signs and symptoms of heat stress and important preventive actions to be taken throughout the day.
The project has also successfully implemented onsite interventions, such as early warning systems and undertaken a targeted policy advocacy campaign at the provincial and national levels with measurable impact. Broadly speaking, the project has had noticeable results in enhancing the knowledge of enterprise workers, management and policy makers on the future impacts of heat stress due to climate change.
“COHED has facilitated our staff in raising awareness and knowledge on heat stress in order to prevent and reduce the impacts of heat stress. The project implementation has been appreciated by all our workers because it has not only helped them to work more effectively but the results for our business have also been better.” – Director of participating enterprise
Enterprise workers have also reiterated the impact the project has had on helping them to understand what heat stress is and how to prevent the effects of heat stress on their health:
“This training course gave us the information on heat stress and ways to protect our health and our colleagues’ health from heat stress at the workplace.” – Training Participant
COHED has achieved significant policy advocacy success, with the Ministry of Labor Invalids and Social Affairs officially incorporating heat stress as a component of all labor safety training undertaken annually for government departments and agencies. COHED developed documentation and training manuals will be utilised as part of this training.
Manufacturing workers in Da Nang study the heat index and heat illness information boards developed by COHED. Photo: COHED, 2015
Construction site workers in Da Nang stop to drink water and keep hydrated. Photo: COHED, 2014
With summer just around the corner, it is pertinent to share the successes and lessons learned from this NGO-led project. A number of resources developed throughout the project, including COHED’s heat stress prevention video, have now been uploaded to the ACCCRN website. The COHED team will also be sharing more project results during March 2016.