Spain breaks wildfire records with summer heat far from over
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez confirmed that Spain’s 10-day heatwave has left “more than 500 people dead”.
One of these was a street cleaner, who died while working in Madrid on Friday July 15th as a result of heat stroke in temperatures over 40°C.
Working in sweltering conditions is not only very difficult but can be dangerous too, so what are your rights as an employee and what does Spanish law say about working in extreme temperatures?
In indoor workspaces, where people are seated such as in an office, the law states that the temperature must be between 17°C and 27°C.
And in those indoor workspaces where light work is carried out and people are moving around most of the time, it must be between 14°C and 25°C.
That means that legislation on working in extreme temperatures applies to both hot and cold weather.
The law also states that the humidity should be between 30 and 70 percent, except in places where there is a risk of static electricity, in which case the minimum should be 50 percent.
Spain’s Royal Decree 486/1997 annex V also states that there should be fresh water available in the workplace for all employees.
As the law was created in 1997, there are no such temperature limits set for remote workers or the self-employed (autónomos) who may not be able to keep their home office below 27°C if they don’t have air-conditioning.
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It’s usually those who are working outdoors who are most affected by the heat, but surprisingly there aren’t any specific laws in Spain about working in extreme temperatures outside.
“There is no rule that establishes temperature limits to work outside,” confirms José de las Morenas, Secretary of Occupational Health for Spain’s General Union of Workers (UGT).
However, several other experts, including Carmen Mancheño – Secretary of Occupational Health of one Spain’s main trade unions CCOO, agree that Spain’s Law on Prevention of Occupational Risks is enough to protect those working outdoors.
Article 21 of this law states: “The worker will have the right to interrupt their activity and leave the workplace, if necessary, if they consider that said activity entails a serious and imminent risk to life or health”.
Working in extremely hot conditions outdoors is definitely considered a health risk, meaning that workers are allowed to stop when they feel the heat is too much and it’s affecting their health.
It’s worth keeping in mind though that lawyers say that this law is rarely resorted to and has to be completely justified.
There may not be any set temperature limits for outdoor workers, but the law states that companies who are employing people to work outside must provide free equipment to protect them from the sun such as a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
They must also make sure there are places to rest in the shade, allow breaks when necessary and ensure employees are not working during the hottest part of the day.
On Tuesday July 19th, after the death of the street cleaner in Madrid, several city employers, as well as workers’ unions (CCOO, UGT and CGT), agreed upon a plan of action for outdoor workers during a heatwave.
They have established three alert levels. Normal temperatures will indicate a green level, where companies must provide basic protection.
If temperatures rise above 36°C a yellow warning will be issued and shifts will change to the evening when it’s cooler.
Air-conditioned vehicles will be used and those who don’t have air-conditioned vehicles will have 10-minute breaks every hour to cool down.
If temperatures rise above 39°C, an orange alert is issued meaning those who carry out manual labour outdoors will have shifts cancelled or changed to later and workers must go in pairs, never alone.
What can I do if I feel it’s too hot to work and it’s affecting my health?
If you’re working indoors, it should be easy enough to check what the temperature is and ask your employers to increase the power of the air conditioner, thus cooling the air to less than 27°C.
If you are a remote worker, you should check how hot your home office or lounge is and inform your boss if you feel it’s over the limit and it’s affecting the way you work. If you don’t have an air conditioner or an adequate fan at home or can’t afford one, it may be a reasonable request for your company to be able to provide a fan for you to work at home.
For those working outside, it’s important to speak up if you feel unwell and let your employer know if you feel that the extreme heat is putting your health at risk. Make sure you are provided with all the necessary equipment and are given enough breaks with plenty of water and shade.