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Europe’s Approach to Heat Stress & Worker Safety – Overview

Portacool, LLC is a global company, selling to distributors in more than 56 countries worldwide, including a number of European countries. No stranger to heat, Europe experienced record setting temperatures last year in many of its countries as noted in this New York Times article from July 2019. One area of France even reached 115°F/ 45.9°C. According to the article, the heat waves are part of an unmistakable trend as the hottest summers Europe has experienced in the last 500 years have all occurred since 2002.

This means workplace and worksite heat has become as much of an issue across the Atlantic as it is in the States. OSHA’s European counterpart for its workforce is EU-OSHA – the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work – and it was founded in 1994. Perhaps the largest difference between the U.S. and the EU agency is that the U.S. OSHA has the power to create laws and levy fines to companies throughout the United States. In the EU, each individual country (there are 27 after the United Kingdom withdrew this year) is responsible for performing workplace inspections, establishing work safety laws, and enforcing the regulations. The EU-OSHA is an organization that provides empowerment and education on running a successful safety program. To date, EU-OSHA does not have a specific regulation related to maximum permitted workplace temperature.

Since the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU, it is worth noting where the UK stands on worker heat safety. The UK government website states the following on the matter of heat safety in the workplace: “There’s no guidance for a maximum temperature limit. Employers must stick to health and safety at work law, including keeping the temperature at a comfortable level, and providing clean and fresh air. Employees should talk to their employer if the workplace temperature isn’t comfortable.”

However, the Health and Safety Executive portion of the UK government website (an independent regulator in the UK) offers multiple resources and pages outlining the issues surrounding heat stress in the workplace. From the physical reaction and effects of heat stress on the body to examples of where heat stress can be prevalent and ideas for how to mitigate heat – the site offers employers an abundance of guidance. Overarchingly, the site strongly suggests employers should complete a heat risk assessment and take steps to control any heat issues. Their first recommended course of action is to “Control the Temperature” by changing processes, using fans/air conditioning, and creating barriers to reduce exposure to radiant heat. (A free download of their steps can be found here.)

Certainly, this is where Portacool can come to the rescue. Whether a temporary portable cooling solution is needed or a hard-to-cool space with heat emitting machinery needs an additional way to bring in cool air, Portacool’s variety of portable evaporative cooler sizes offer help for every space. Based on additional organizational activity in Europe, it appears having readily available heat mitigation will continue to be a predominant worker safety issue.

In February 2020, EU-OSHA announced the creation of Heat Shield, an EU funded research program that will address the negative health and productivity effects caused by working in the heat. The program seeks to identify the best practices and methods for protecting workers from heat. According to the site, Heat Shield will focus on providing adaptation strategies for the five major industries of the EU and its workers: manufacturing, construction, transportation, tourism, and agriculture.

The research program, funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020, culminates the efforts of twelve research institutions, two policy-making organizations, four industrial entities, and two civil society organizations from across the EU. Together they will complete a detailed series of six development steps. According to the Executive Summary, reducing the impacts of rising workplace temperatures in the five major industries listed above will produce two strategic benefits for industries: 1) ensure the wellbeing of their workforce; and 2) improve their competitiveness by mitigating the productivity loss associated with rising workplace heat

The EU’s new efforts are commendable. Certainly, this effort is one everyone will be watching as it progresses. In the meantime, Portacool looks forward to continuing to provide a practical solution for effective and efficient cooling for many sectors of the EU workforce. In our next blog, we’ll look at what some of the countries in the EU (and abroad) mandate to protect workers.

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