Set Standard Working Thermal Limits

Laborers working in the Gulf’s extreme summer heat are at risk for injury and even death. Current thermal work restrictions in GCC states do not provide sufficient protection against heat distress.

Set Standard Working Thermal Limits

Laborers working in the Gulf’s extreme summer heat are at risk for injury and even death. Current thermal work restrictions in GCC states do not provide sufficient protection against heat distress.

  • 40°C Unbearable temperatures can hit Gulf countries as early May
  • 30 + people a day were admitted into just one Bahraini hospital in may this year
  • 1500 + violations of Kuwait's summer work bans were lodged in 2011
  • 200 companies were fined for violating Bahrain's summer work bans last year

Next: Background

Current thermal risks and policies in the Gulf


The Thermal Work Limit is a heat stress index, used as a guideline to determine appropriate work-level activity depending on thermal risk. calculated levels of heat that can be dissipated by a workers body into the environment.

Most GCC states do have some temperature guidelines in place. Each has imposed some variety of a midday work bans in the summer. However, these summer working hours are arbitrary, based on pre-determined dates and times rather than actual weather conditions. They also tend to be under-enforced, though companies are meant to face fines and visa penalties for every employee caught working during the ban. Good practices by private companies and industrial zones exist throughout the Gulf, but they should made mandatory.

Additionally, migrant are often forced to rest on-site (as overseers state transportation to often distant migrant labor camps is time-consuming), and are not always provided with shaded areas. The “break” workers receive is consequently not much of a break at all, as they remain exhausted while working through the evening.

Heat risk for low-income expats is exacerbated by poor housing conditions that do not shelter them from heat during off-hours and disable their recovery.  Critically, the TWL and other heat stress measures assume workers are fit for duty, adequately rested and  hydrated and able to self pace their work. However, many such personal factors are often beyond the control of laborers.

"Many low-income expats is poor housing conditions that give them no respite from the heat even when they’re done working for the day." - Shabina Khatri, Qatar News

Next: Recent Cases

Why aren't current protections enough?

Recent Cases

1.Midday work bans help, but are too arbitrary

The thermal work limit is based on specific weather conditions, while the midday work bans currently in place throughout the Gulf are based on estimations of high-heat dates and times.

For example, Bahrain’s midday work ban spans from July to August. However, temperatures are perilously high both before and after this period. On a single day in June this year, doctors reported 50 people required medical treatment within 24 hours, most of whom were migrant construction workers

As Karim Radhi of the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions, an affiliate of BWI explains,

“The midday ban is indeed helpful to the workers, especial those who are related to outdoor jobs. However, instead of limiting it to certain months, it would be better if the ban span based on the temperature. As we are aware, the ambient temperature fluctuates and it will be wise if the decision on the ban period is shifted to the hours when heat is at the epitome. A present, we have July and August set apart as summer months and hence, the ban is applicable during these months. But the climatic conditions are unpredictable and we sometimes see that June or September is hotter than July and August.”

2.Non-compliance, underregulation, and unclarity

All GCC states  impose midday work bans in the summer and  have recently begun to penalize violators. However, current policies still lack widespread inspection and citizens frequently document violations, or technical compliance that still renders workers vulnerable to heat stress. Additionally, most laws lack clarity regarding the scope of workers protected and the responsibilities employers have to educate and provision heat coping mechanisms (such as cooling and shade) to their workers.  

For example, Qatar imposes a ban on open-area work from June 15 to the end of August. However, citizens note that workers on break often remain in unshaded areas, offering them little actual respite from the heat. Fatigued laborers must then resume working in the evening.

Some private firms, such as QatarGas, may exercise good practices by enforcing their own thermal limit requirements. But such regulations cannot be voluntary – they should be standardized nation-wide to avoid falling short of comprehensive protections and to permit judicial redress in case of noncompliance.

Next: Suggested Action

Suggested Action

    To strengthen and standardize existing heat guidelines, GCC states should:

    • Standardize work bans according to the TWL, rather than set times and dates.
    • Apply TWL to all indoor and outdoor workers that do not have access to cooling facilities, including those in warehouses, workshops, generator rooms. The TWL should not be restricted to construction work and should apply across all sectors.
    • Require employers to provide workers with suitable work gear, shaded shelter, and hydration stations on work sites
    • Implement awareness programs for workers and supervisors, through “toolbox talks” as well as standardized guidebooks. Examples of TWL guidebooks can be found here.
    • Ensure workers can self-evaluate, and remove themselves from stressful heat environment without fear of wage deductions or losing their jobs
    • Implement regulator monitoring through audits and inspection teams. Following Saudi, Omani and Kuwaiti examples, establish hotlines for workers and citizens to report offenders.
    • Enforce specific penalties, including fines and suspension, for noncompliant companies

    Origin countries can help prepare laborers for conditions in the Gulf, as well as establish TWL requirements in bilateral agreements or as pre-requisites for contracts:

    • Implement training programs for prospective construction workers, similar to those provides to domestic workers. Distribute leaflets with basic hydration and self-pacing guidelines.

    For Private Companies:

    • Establish and distribute guidelines based on TWL
    • Educate and regulate supervisors as well as laborers
    • Reassure workers they will not face penalties for self-pacing
    • Consider shifting work schedules earlier, for example from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m., so that workers can return home during their rest period

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