Summer in Malta is often dictated by sweltering heat and dry spells, making mundane activities more challenging to pursue. Naturally, this does not exclude the additional challenges faced by employees – some more than others – at the place of work, resulting in increased occupational risks, accidents and illness. As a result, employers are charged with more onerous responsibilities throughout these months, with the intention of safeguarding their employees, both from a physical as well as a mental wellbeing point of view.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (Cap. 424 of the Laws of Malta) imposes a general obligation on employers to ensure the health and safety of all persons who may be affected by the work carried out. The Occupational Health and Safety Authority, has gone a step further, by compiling a guidance document for both employers and employees, in an effort to prevent or reduce heat related illness, to the extent reasonably possible.
The main risks identified as associated with excessive heat-exposure include extreme fatigue and dizziness, burns, lack of vigilance and higher irritability. Likewise, one’s health may be negatively affected by heat strain, heat cramps, heat stroke and even fainting. One practical and economical measure to mitigate heat from entering work premises is having smooth and light-colour painted exterior walls, aimed towards reflecting heat. Additionally, proper shading, insulation and reflective roof tiles are also measures which the employer may seek to implement to reduce the level of heat within its premises.
Ensuring adequate and localised ventilation, ‘spot cooling’ (such as air-conditioning), ample safe drinking water and dehumidifiers are also other practical safety measures which may be implemented within the workspace. Where feasible, employers should also try to uphold certain organisational measures such as job rotation systems and increased breaks with the aim of limiting and adequately distributing one’s exposure to the sun and/or heat. Furthermore, employers are encouraged to include ‘sun and heat protection advice’ in their health and safety training. What remains essential is that employers must never give workers a sum of money in exchange of working in hazardous environment.
Being a Mediterranean Island, Malta is notorious for having one of the highest UV-index levels within Europe. It is scientifically proven that UV rays penetrate deeply into the skin, causing damage to the ‘dermis’ and ‘epidermis’, respectively. Certain chemicals commonly used within the workplace (such as paint, tar and pitch) render one’s skin more susceptible to UV damage. When considered in tandem, this significantly increases the chance of workers developing skin cancer or cataracts.
In summary, these guidelines are a strong advocate for preventative measures physical as well as a mental wellbeing. In doing so, employers are encouraged to compile an occupational risk assessment, to identify and mitigate hazard as much as possible, and educate workers respectively with the aim of preventing any accidents and damage from occurring.