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Catching up with HEAT-SHIELD: Shedding important light on the effects of heat exposure on industrial workers’ productivity

In 2020, research conducted as part of the EU-funded HEAT-SHIELD project found that direct and prolonged exposure to sunlight negatively affected motor and cognitive performances. Since then, it has delivered significant scholarship and guidance materials on the negative impact of workplace heat stress on the health and productivity of workers in the tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, construction and transportation industries.

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Even though HEAT-SHIELD (Integrated inter-sector framework to increase the thermal resilience of European workers in the context of global warming) ended in December 2021, the consortium continued to publish peer-reviewed scientific papers – now totalling more than 70 – in high-impact journals. For example, in one of the publications, in collaboration with the Economics of Climate Change, Energy and Transport Unit of the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, project partners showed that occupational heat stress (OHS) sets Europe back by over EUR 160 billion every year due to healthcare costs and productivity losses. They demonstrated that implementing HEAT-SHIELD prevention plans may noticeably reduce this cost while benefiting worker health. “We have involved and rallied scientists around the world to engage in OHS research,” comments HEAT-SHIELD coordinator Prof. Lars Nybo of the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports. “The work has generated massive tracking and uptake that can be seen in two metrics: our publications have been cited over 2 000 times, and two thirds of current OHS literature has been published since the start of the project.” Most papers focused on translating the findings into implementable procedures. In addition, they concentrated on providing guidance on best practices, strategies and know-how on the importance of mitigating the negative effects of OHS. These mainly include a Work Heat Action Plan, a guide for employers and enterprises, and a Weather Platform, as well as several infographics and videos. The guidelines and information materials have been adopted by international organisations (e.g. European Trade Union Confederation), other unions and non-profit organisations (e.g. Fundación 1º de Mayo), as well as national policymakers (e.g. Hellenic Ministry of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity). “From the start, we involved our target population – workers, managers, employers and policymakers – in the design, feasibility testing and implementation of our actions,” concludes Prof. Nybo. “Our studies have highlighted and proved that worker health can be prioritised hand-in-hand with a focus on preventing productivity loss for the mutual benefit of employers and employees.” DrPH Joy Shumake-Guillemot, head of the World Meteorological Organization and World Health Organization’s Joint Office for Climate and Health, praises HEAT-SHIELD. “Work by the consortium has been remarkable in terms of showcasing best practices in mitigating occupational heat stress, creating role models, and inspiring academic and industry beneficiaries to use their research results to create value for the society at large.”

Keywords

HEAT-SHIELD, heat, heat exposure, worker, sunlight, workplace, occupational heat stress