Persistent weather patterns are leading to longer heatwaves, which are becoming the new normal due to ongoing climate change. In July 2023, scientists at the University of Maine recorded at least three instances of global temperatures breaking world records. In Southern Europe, particularly, over 60 summer days could pose serious health risks, potentially leading to an increased number of fatalities and hospitalisations, especially among older and ill individuals, unless steps are taken to adapt. Meanwhile, in Beijing, temperatures surged past 40°C (104°F) in June 2023, setting a new record. This trend has been reported in various major cities around the world.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warns that extreme temperatures will become even more severe thanks to the El Niño phenomenon. This is the first El Niño in seven years, which, combined with human-induced global warming, could cause 2023 or 2024 to surpass the heat record set in 2016. El Niño, which has a 90% chance of continuing into the latter half of 2023, is typically associated with increased rainfall in certain regions but can also intensify droughts, heatwaves, and wildfires in others.
Why is it important?
Outdoor jobs, such as agriculture and manufacturing, where temperatures are not controlled, are particularly vulnerable. To protect workers, changes are being made, including shorter shifts, more breaks, and increased night work. However, night-time temperatures are also rising, and other safety issues, like visibility, remain a concern. For these workers, air-conditioned cooling centres and frequent breaks to regulate body temperature may become more common.
There has been increasing criticisms of businesses that don’t provide their workers enough cooling. A case in point is UPS in the US, whose delivery trucks and several of their loading facilities lack air conditioning. During an extended day of deliveries under the hot sun, the heat in the truck’s cargo area can rise to 140°F (60°C) or even more. There have been instances where UPS drivers have reported temperatures reaching a staggering 152°F (66°C).
By David Tal
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