Outdoor workers most vulnerable as Saudi summer sun blazes on

Struggling in sweltering heat

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Outdoor workers struggled to find ways to beat the heat as temperatures in Jeddah almost hit 50 degrees Celsius this week.

“It’s too hot,” Abdul Razag Hussain told Saudi Gazette, as he took a break from picking up trash in Rawdah District.

“We sit down when it gets extremely hot, but our supervisor comes and asks us why we aren’t doing our work,” said Hussain, who worked for a cleaning company contracted by Jeddah Municipality.

“It’s terribly hot, but we have to do our work. We cover our faces with cloth so that the sun doesn’t burn them.”

As the sun beats down, outdoor workers see the most exposure to the heat. One construction crew kept a lot of water nearby and on their frequent breaks, the workers head straight for the coolers. They also adjust to a summer schedule, starting early and calling it a day when it becomes too hot.

According to a site supervisor, “Heat exhaustion is a major problem in summer. We have 5 to 10 cases each day among laborers.”

For Pakistani Omran Ahmed, the first days of August have passed in a blur of heat and pressure, as he worked at a construction site near King Faisal Specialist Hospital.

“It is extremely hot and we were told that it is usual for the month of August but we have to finish the work we have started.

Beating the weather is part of our job and we have no choice,” said Omran. Omran and many of his colleagues spend their lunch break resting under the shade of the trees on the street.

These construction workers consume gallons of water, provided on-site by their employers or by area residents.

An awareness campaign has been launched through various social media sites by young Saudis to ensure that workers and companies adhere to the summer midday break rules in Saudi Arabia.

On Twitter under the hashtag “Working under the sun”, Saad Al-Shihri said, “Outdoor laborers work under the sun every day, this time of the year is very hot and we hope they get less working hours.”

Another follower said, “It is not fair to see them under the hot sun and we are sitting in an air-conditioned room.”

Though temperatures have already climbed past 40C, the mandatory midday work ban has been ignored by a number of companies.

A construction worker who refused to give his name attributed the struggle and pain of the laborers to harsh working conditions.

“Many workers are going without meals, and without enough water, and are working in high temperatures all day,” he said.

He told Saudi Gazette that many companies do not care about the health of their workers and they want the work to be done despite the heat wave.

The Ministry of Labor enforced a ban on outdoor work from midday until 3 p.m. starting June 15. The ban will continue until Sept. 15.

According to the latest reports by the Ministry of Labor investigators, 531 violations have been filed against employers ignoring the midday work ban since its implementation on June 15.

June to August is the hottest time of the year in Saudi Arabia. A large segment of the population goes on holiday abroad to avoid the heat.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Sunday August 07, 2015.

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