Blue-collar workers putting in more overtime to get around heat, calling in sick due to hot weather

Firms in the construction and logistics businesses are the most affected, based on responses from companies in various sectors contacted by The Straits Times.

Alyssa Woo

Alyssa Woo

The Straits Times


Firms said their workers were directly affected by the hot weather and reported delays in delivery timelines and project schedules. PHOTO: THE STRAITS TIMES

August 31, 2023

SINGAPORE – The heat is a hot topic in water-cooler talk across the nation, but the impact of Singapore’s warmest decade on record is being felt most keenly among blue-collar workers.

Firms in the construction and logistics businesses are the most affected, based on responses from companies in various sectors contacted by The Straits Times.

They said their workers were directly affected by the hot weather and reported delays in delivery timelines and project schedules, as workers had to take longer breaks during the hottest parts of the day.
Mr John Tang, project manager at Hin Lee Contractor Trading, saw an increase of up to 20 per cent of workers putting in longer hours.

Productivity had dipped due to the heat and the firm also saw an uptick in medical leave being taken by workers, which further slowed down projects, he added.

He said: “We do see an increase in workers reporting in sick for illnesses like headaches, fever and cold, and we believe that it is due to the weakening of the immune system due to the heat.”

Mr Daniel Sim of luxury home builders Colebuild said the firm had put in more effort to plan work-rest cycles for shift timings for their workers to combat heat-stress issues.

While project timelines had “not been affected much”, their profit margins had decreased as a result.

Moving and storage business EZ Storage Singapore said the amount of overtime work in this period had increased by up to 50 per cent compared with previous years, even with the same manpower.

Workers start as early as 8am to rush the previous day’s work and continue working till midnight, said Mr Ben Tan, a sales and finance administration associate at the company.

The business had also seen a “drastic increase” in electricity consumption at its warehouse with the higher usage of fans, which led to a drop in profit margins.

About 50 per cent more customers have inquired about air-conditioned storage amid the potential impact of the heat and humidity on their stored goods.

Singapore recorded its highest temperature of 37 deg C on May 13, prompting the Government to launch a national heat stress advisory in July to guide the public on minimising the risk of heat-related illnesses.

In July, there was an increase in patients being admitted for heat-related injuries, according to Dr Ong Pei Yuin, a consultant at the National University Hospital’s (NUH) department of emergency medicine.

The hospitals under the National University Health System – NUH, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Alexandra Hospital – see about five to six cases of heat injuries per month, said Dr Ong in response to queries from ST.

There was a slight increase in cases to nine for May 2023, though it reverted to five cases in June. However, in July, it increased to 14 cases.

Dr Ong said: “Most of the patients with heat injuries are young, and the majority of cases are in their early 20s.”

Heatstroke causes a bodywide inflammatory response and, if left untreated, can lead to organ failure, coma or even death.

There are long-term complications that could arise from one who has suffered heatstroke.

Dr Ong said: “Heatstroke survivors may have long-lasting medical consequences such as permanent neurological damage and greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life.”

While SingHealth did not have statistics to share on heat-related injuries, Dr Rachel Lim, the clinical lead for SingHealth Polyclinics’ Preventive Care Workgroup, said with higher environmental temperatures, the body would find it harder to lose heat to the surrounding atmosphere.

She advised the public to avoid intense activities outdoors between 10am and 4pm, when it is hottest and the sunlight is at its strongest.

But this advice may be hard to follow for construction workers and logistics movers.

Associate Professor Trevor Yu of Nanyang Technological University’s Nanyang Business School said blue-collar workers are “certainly being affected by the changing and more extreme climate conditions”.

He added: “Research has shown that these blue-collar workers now face an increased risk of heat-related illnesses and occupational injuries, which may be compounded by the fact that there is not much schedule flexibility in the type of work that they do.

“There is also global evidence that young male workers are especially at risk, as they are the ones who are most likely to have such jobs.

“Also, high-risk industries include agriculture, construction, and manufacturing.”

Mr Melvin Yong, assistant secretary-general at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), encourages companies to take measures to help mitigate the effects of the hot weather on their workers.

NTUC sent out a safety advisory on heat management to all their unions and also worked with affiliated unions to send union leaders for various workshops on heat management, such as the WSH Forum on Heat Stress Management in May.

Mr Yong said: “NTUC will continue to work closely with our tripartite partners to ensure a safe working environment for all our workers.

“We firmly believe that a safe workplace is a fundamental right of every worker.”

Workplace advisory

1. Ground supervisors are encouraged to monitor the wet bulb globe temperature regularly to assess heat stress risks. Heavy physical work should be scheduled to cooler parts of the day to reduce exposure to heat. Companies should also provide shaded areas for outdoor workers to rest, and to arrange for workers to take regular breaks.

2. To reduce the risks of workers developing heat injuries, workers should be educated on the dangers of heat stress, how to look out for signs of heat injuries, and the emergency first-aid response.

3. Most importantly, workers are reminded to report to their supervisors immediately if they feel unwell.

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