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Employers now required to give outdoor workers hourly breaks if it gets too hot

Employers are now required to provide outdoor workers hourly breaks of at least five minutes when it gets too hot.

This measure, among others to reduce the risks of heat stress on workers who work outdoors, is effective immediately and is introduced by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in consultation with the Ministry of Health’s Heat Stress Expert Panel, MOM said on Tuesday.

“Unlike the general population, outdoor workers have less discretion over their work activities, and may be more exposed to heat stress,” MOM said.

Employers are required to monitor the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) for every hour of outdoor work performed. WBGT readings take into account effects of humidity, air temperature, wind speed and solar radiation. It is an internationally recognised measurement that reflects the main environmental factors contributing to heat stress.

The amount of rest per hour depends on how high the WBGT readings are, as well the level of physical activity, MOM added.

For example, an outdoor worker should get five to 10 minutes of rest every hour if the WBGT is between 32 and 33 deg C and they are performing light physical activities. Examples of such activities include pushing or pulling light loads and normal walking.

An outdoor worker should get 15 minutes’ rest if they perform heavy physical activity, such as shovelling and manual sawing, when WBGT readings are 33 deg C or higher.

Employers can use the National Environment Agency’s myENV app to monitor the WBGT readings. Construction sites with a contract sum of $5 million or more, shipyards and the process industry will be required to have an on-site WBGT meter. These places are selected as they are likely to have prolonged outdoor activities, MOM said.

New workers and those returning from more than a week’s leave must have their outdoor exposure gradually increased over at least seven days. All workers must hydrate themselves at least hourly with the recommended intake of at least 300ml of water, and take their breaks under shade.

According to the Meteorological Service Singapore’s fortnightly weather outlook for Oct 16 to 31, daily maximum temperatures are expected to range between 33 and 34 deg C on most days.

For the first two weeks of October, maximum temperatures rose above 34 deg C on most days, and even exceeded 35 deg C in several parts of Singapore on Oct 9.

Workplaces are also encouraged to implement a buddy system, with the aim of earlier identification and quick treatment for those showing symptoms of heat injury.

Employers are also encouraged to reschedule outdoor physical work to cooler parts of the day, and ventilate work and rest areas with fans and air coolers.

“Employers will be required to implement these measures to reduce heat stress risks for outdoor workers and MOM will conduct inspections at workplaces to ensure that these measures are adequately implemented,” the ministry said.