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The European Adapheat project has examined the involvement of workers in occupational health and safety policies related to rising temperatures and heat waves in 5 European countries.   


Results of the project


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In a context of climate emergency and increasing heat waves, occupational safety and health policies in Europe continue to provide an ‘insufficient response’ to the challenges of climate change on workers' health, according to the European study Adapheat, presented today at the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) headquarters in Brussels.

‘It is a very relevant project insofar as the climate emergency is fully established in Europe and until now occupational health and collective bargaining were absent from the public and scientific debate on the subject,’ said Sergio Salas, researcher at the 1º de Mayo Foundation and coordinator of the project. ‘We consider the project to have been a success as a result of the joint work, collaboration and collective learning of all the partners involved’, he continued.

The Adapheat project, led by the 1º de Mayo Foundation and in which the Fondazione di Vittorio (Italy), the Hellenic Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (ELINYAE, Greece), the Free University of Amsterdam (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands) and the Hungarian trade union Magyar Szakszervezeti Szövetség - MASZSZ (Hungary), has studied occupational health and safety public policies and experiences of social dialogue and collective bargaining in five European countries and in the EU. The project has also analysed how social actors are addressing the challenges of climate change adaptation in different industrial relations, socio-economic and political contexts.

According to the study, although climate change and its effects have entered the political agenda, it has so far been addressed primarily as a general health problem, rather than as an occupational health issue. Thus, the study found that despite growing concern about the health effects of high temperatures, legal frameworks to protect workers from heat events are still lacking, and basic measures such as suspension from work during extreme heat events are not implemented.

On the other hand, in the countries analysed, heat events have been found to be underrepresented in collective bargaining. At the same time, social partners have denounced unilateral actions by companies and governments in the implementation of occupational safety and health measures.


Action plans developed as an alternative to the scarce presence of heat exposure in traditional collective bargaining

In some of the countries analysed, such as Spain, heat action plans are being developed as an alternative to the scarce presence of heat exposure in traditional collective bargaining (collective agreements). This is a useful measure, but it is not yet widely implemented and is conditional on the willingness of companies, as it is not compulsory. The plans are more comprehensive and of higher quality where trade unions are stronger and where bargaining is more fluid.   

In the Dutch participatory model, health and safety catalogues, a sort of guides of good practices negotiated between employers and trade unions and approved by the labour inspection authority, have been one of the main means of channeling measures to combat the effects of high temperatures and to ask employers to implement measures. However, these catalogues lack specificity, focus on individual measures and, above all, are not binding, so their real impact in practice is low.

In Hungary, the case study where collective bargaining is weakest, hardly any references to heat exposure were found in collective agreements. This is because legislation does not sufficiently address the issue, leaving companies almost complete freedom of action on how to deal with problems related to heat events.

In Greece, one of the countries with the highest exposure to heat, collective bargaining was severely weakened after the 2008 crisis. So was the participation of workers' on occupational safety and health issues, and in particular on heat. As a result, few collective agreements address the effects of climate change on workers.

Finally, in the case of Italy, formal protection has been increased, but the measures lack concrete actions. Moreover, as in the other countries analysed, the presence of heat effects is anecdotal in collective agreements in Italy.

The report also includes recommendations such as that the heatwave warning systems should be adapted to the concrete reality of the workplace, with accurate and continuous heat assessments and monitoring of environmental conditions, that participatory and binding heat action protocols should be developed to ensure a safe working environment in the face of rising temperatures, and that health and safety clauses in collective agreements should be strengthened, among others.

‘Collective bargaining and social dialogue must extend their scope of action to the protection of workers against heat, which is strongly increasing its effects on health due to climate change. To this end, legislation must be developed accordingly by setting clear, scientifically informed limit values and ensuring the right of workers‘ participation in heat stress prevention in all EU countries,’ concluded Sergio Salas.



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Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.