From the Viewsroom

Stop work in the midday sun

Mamuni Das | Updated on June 20, 2019 Published on June 20, 2019

Outdoor working hours must be curtailed during extreme weather

India’s determination to boost its ranks on the ‘ease of doing business’ index created by the World Bank is commendable. But in that race, it shouldn’t forget to do well on a welfare indicator for which an equally popular global index doesn’t exist. This indicator is the ‘ease of working for business’.

Today, when the IMD predicts heatwave conditions more accurately, it is unfortunate that people still die of heat strokes. While deaths have declined according to official statistics, over 6,000 people have lost their lives to heat waves in India since 2010. Global studies warn that if current warming trends continue, by the end of the century heat and humidity levels would breach a point where those exposed for over six hours would not survive. Early weather predictions should be used to limit outdoor working hours. Odisha and Kerala already implement norms to prevent heat exposure related illnesses. Most recently, following unfortunate deaths, Gaya's district administration had to step in to implement a similar rule. But Delhi, which saw a prolonged heatwave, was caught napping. It was not unusual to see construction work even then.

India’s guidelines on working conditions in extreme weather should kick in automatically for vulnerable occupations — construction workers, security guards, rickshaw pullers, courier delivery boys, policemen, railway trackmen. Say, adjusting work hours, installing coolers, supplying cool drinking water, or providing air-cooling helmets. Some employers implement these in summer. Ironically, even when such rules exist, businessmen report that labourers crib about wasted time, asserting they can manage the harsh heat. The Centre has to debate on how to address such livelihood issues as people at the bottom of the pyramid bear the brunt.

People underestimate the effects of a heatwave. Recently, four senior citizens succumbed while travelling in a non-AC train. At a time when heatwave spells are getting longer and frequent, policy-makers must address the working conditions of vulnerable groups. It may not boost India’s rank on a popular business index, but it will redeem its image as a country that spares a thought for its poorest workers.

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Published on June 20, 2019
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