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Three-hour midday break not sufficient for workers?

Three-hour midday break not sufficient for workers?

Outdoor working hours should be reviewed if fasting, says doctor



By Kelly Clarke/staff Reporter And Dhanusha Gokulan/staff Reporter

Published: Tue 30 Jun 2015, 12:58 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:09 PM

Construction workers waiting for their bus near Al Furjan area of Dubai. -  KTphotos Rahul Gajjar

Dubai - The three-hour midday break is not a sufficient enough rest period for workers fasting during Ramadan, says one medical expert who is calling for a review of working hours to ensure health remains a priority during the Holy Month.

“For outdoor workers there is a big risk when fasting. Increased humidity leads to increased risk of heat exhaustion. The 12-3pm break will not make much difference here,” General Practitioner at Aster Medical Centre Dubai, Dr Roderic Fernando told Khaleej Times.

Though the midday break ensures less exposure to the sun during the hottest hours of the day, Dr Fernando said shorter, spaced out shifts may be the best answer for those fasting while working outdoors.

“I propose a 6am-10am shift followed by a 4pm-8pm shift as these are some of the cooler parts of the day.”

To tackle heat exhaustion people need to sweat, but the increased humidity during the summer months hampers this process, he said, meaning labourers are unable to cool off naturally.

Ahmed El Hadidi, recently appointed chairman of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) UAE Branch said that UAE’s best practices of treatment of workers during hot weather conditions is in line with what is done in the United States of America and the United Kingdom. IOSH is a not-for-profit organisation that is committed to creating a healthy work environment for workers. “IOSH has done extensive research on working in heat, i.e. Workers affected by direct exposure to sunlight. Working under direct sunlight has its own hazards. The main issue with direct exposure is skin cancer. On the other hand, working in hot weather conditions also result in heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” said El Hadidi.

Hadidi said: “Worker tend to not be lucid when they are fasting and are working in hot weather conditions as well. The midday rule was established in the UAE in 2005 and since then most companies have adhered to rule, because not doing so will result in strict penalties, up to Dhs 0, 000.”

Importance of hydration

In addition to this, hydration is also very important, but as those who are fasting cannot take fluids on board during the day, the body is subjected to more stress and health is pushed to the fore.

“Heat exhaustion effects some of the body’s vital organs including the brain, kidneys and heart. The inability to sweat and the exclusion of water intake means metabolism is effected too,” said Dr Fernando.

From a medical standpoint, Dr Fernando said if a person’s vital signs become a concern to him, he will always encourage outdoor workers to drink small amounts of water even while fasting, however he will always “respect their religious standpoint”.

When summer hits, it is common for clinics and hospitals to see an increase in patients exhibiting symptoms of heat-related illnesses, and it is a number which increases even more so during the month of Ramadan according to Dr Fernando.

“I do see more people coming to me with symptoms of heat exhaustion, especially those fasting. Some complain of cramps, they feel disorientated, nauseous and suffer from headaches. To work in this state is not safe.”

For those experiencing such symptoms it is vital you bring the core temperature down, he said.

“Rehydrating the body can alleviate these symptoms too, though this cannot be forced upon those who are fasting as it is one of the five pillars of Islam.”

Raising awareness

Hadidi said that raising awareness among organisations and workers is of primary importance.

“Companies need to be provided with leaflets, videos, and other study material stressing on the importance of being protected while working in the heat,” said Hadidi. 

Workers, while fasting, need to be made aware that fatty and oily foods are also bad for their health.

 “They need to reduce fatty and oily food and consume plenty of water. What companies can also do is to make working hours more flexbile and encourage them to work in the night, evening times, as compared to morning hours,” added Hadidi. 

kelly@khaleejtimes.com, dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com


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