Climate Health Uncategorized

Working hours need to change to combat rising temperatures in Europe, suggests Oxford research

work hours

HQ Team

July 19, 2023: As the global climate continues to change, the impact of rising temperatures is becoming increasingly evident, not only in our environment but also in the world of work. The heatwaves sweeping across Europe have set alarm bells ringing with calls for better preparation and management to combat the changing climate. Last year around 65,000 lives were lost in Europe due to the sweltering heat.

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Oxford highlights the urgent need for businesses to adapt their staff’s working patterns to cope with the uncomfortable heat levels associated with climate change. The study emphasizes that countries in Europe, such as the United Kingdom, which lack established cultural norms influenced by hot weather, must take proactive measures to ensure the well-being and productivity of their workforce.

According to the researchers, one of the key recommendations to combat the effects of heat is for workers to start their shifts as early as 6 a.m., enabling them to finish by 2 p.m. and avoid the peak afternoon heat. This adjustment may necessitate some individuals with longer commutes to begin their day as early as 4 a.m. during the warmer months.

While this proposal may seem drastic, it aligns with the practices already in place in Mediterranean countries where siestas and earlier working hours are common during hot periods.

The study suggests that implementing “summer hours” could help mitigate the risks posed by high temperatures. Some companies, such as L’Oréal, Asos, and Nike, have already embraced this concept, allowing employees to leave work between midday and 3.30 p.m. on Fridays during the summer months. However, the researchers stress that adjusting working hours is not merely a means of engaging employees by offering early timings; it is a vital measure to prevent staff from succumbing to the heat and the associated problems.

Siesta and early end to work day

The experts explain that as the day progresses, heat accumulates and becomes increasingly unbearable. Therefore, a 2 p.m. finish time is preferable to a 5 p.m. end time. Spain, with its scorching temperatures reaching up to 45°C (113F) during heatwaves, has already adopted such practices. In Andalucia, for example, outdoor workers, builders, and agricultural workers typically shift their schedules to start at 6 a.m. and finish at 2 p.m. Additionally, many shops close between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. to avoid working during the hottest hours.

The researchers argue that adjusting working hours would be particularly beneficial for those who work outdoors or in buildings not designed to withstand extreme temperatures. Even in office spaces equipped with air conditioning, there is a concern about the “vicious cycle” that occurs when increased air conditioning usage contributes to further climate heating, perpetuating the need for more energy consumption. Therefore, even office workers would benefit from earlier finishing times.

“Cool Biz “

The study’s findings reveal that the United Kingdom, along with Switzerland and Norway, can anticipate a 30% increase in the number of days with uncomfortably hot temperatures. It is crucial for these countries to swiftly implement cooling adaptation measures at a large scale to mitigate the effects of rising heat levels.

Drawing inspiration from Japan’s successful “Cool Biz” policy, the researchers propose various solutions to address the challenges of rising temperatures. Retrofitting buildings with ventilation measures that can be closed off during winter months to retain heat, as well as planting trees near buildings to provide shade, are among the suggested adaptations. Furthermore, emulating Japan’s approach of encouraging staff to dress more casually during the summer months can help keep individuals cool, reducing reliance on energy-consuming air conditioning systems.

The researchers caution against the short-term solution of relying solely on air conditioning, which exacerbates the problem by increasing energy consumption.

As the world grapples with the escalating consequences of climate change, it is imperative for businesses, governments, and individuals to proactively adapt to these challenges. By implementing innovative strategies, such as adjusting working patterns, retrofitting buildings, and embracing sustainable practices, we can collectively mitigate the impact of rising temperatures on both the workforce and the environment.

The new study, is published in the journal Nature Sustainability.


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