Health and Safety

High temperatures increase work accident rates by 10%

Agriculture and construction are the most affected sectors, according to a study presented by the Association of Technical Architects

2 min
Construction and agricultural workers are the most exposed to high temperatures during the workday.

BarcelonaHigh temperatures can increase work accidents by up to 10%, according to a study published by the Barcelona Association of Technical Architects (CAATEEB) and elaborated with data from all over Spain by the company Estudi IS Global. The most common accidents are heat stroke and burns, while the most affected sectors are agriculture and construction.

CAATEB also points out that several studies show that, at temperatures above 28 degrees, the number of accidents resulting from human error and unsafe actions increases significantly, since workers have more difficulty concentrating, rest less and suffer a delay in response capacity. In addition, heat has direct negative effects on people already suffering from other diseases, especially cardiovascular, respiratory and psychiatric diseases.

In 2021, 1,298 people died in Spain from causes related to an "excess of temperature", according to data from the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid –which depends on the Spanish Ministry of Health– a figure that will foreseeably increase in the future as a consequence of climate change. According to this organisation, between July 10 and 15 there were 300 deaths due to the heat wave.

Among these deaths, the deaths of two workers in Madrid last Friday stand out. The first victim, known this Saturday, was a 60-year-old employee of the City Council's cleaning service, who was admitted to hospital with a body temperature of 41.6 degrees. That same day, a 56-year-old worker of an industrial warehouse in the town of Móstoles, southwest of Madrid, also died in the local hospital, where he had entered "in critical condition" and with a body temperature of 42.9 degrees.

In this sense, the CAATEEB recalls that heatwaves have ceased to be occasional to become increasingly common during the summer months, as well as longer and more intense. On average, the temperature in Catalonia has risen 1.8 degrees since 1950.

Prevention services decide

Neither Catalonia nor Spain has a regulation prohibiting outdoor work above a certain temperature. The Catalan regulation that serves as a framework to avoid accidents at work is the law of prevention of occupational hazards and allows, depending on the activity, some measures to be taken, Jordi Garcia, professor of labour law at the University of Barcelona, explains. Compared to other places, there is nothing," he says. However, there is a 35 ºC limit inside factories.

This does not mean, however, that there are no controls. "All companies have prevention services", which can be internal or external to the company and which have "a medical part", Garcia says. It is this prevention service that "will determine what measures have to be implemented" in each company during spells of high temperatures such as the heat wave affecting Europe these days, and which will be different depending on the activities. For example, the heat does not affect a subway worker, who may be subject to high temperatures but is permanently under cover, in the same way as a gardener, who works under the sun for a large part of his working day.