Heatstroke should not be listed as an occupational disease, Hong Kong’s labour minister has said, despite calls from some unionists for the listing after the city suffered its hottest July day on record.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Chris Sun said on RTHK on Thursday that it would “not be appropriate” to add heatstroke to the list of occupational diseases.
He said bodily overheating was linked to exposure to sunlight and air circulation, rather than a person’s job. “When you do outdoor exercises, such as hiking, your risk of getting heatstroke is similar to working outdoors.”
Last Sunday, July 24, Hong Kong saw a record-high monthly temperature of 36.1 degrees Celsius as measured at the city’s Observatory, with areas such as Sheung Shui in the New Territories topping 39 degrees Celsius. The very hot weather warning has been in force since July 15.
The Labour Department is considering adding the Heat Index to the department’s heatstroke prevention guidelines for outdoor workers and their employers, Sun said on Thursday. The index issued by the Hong Kong Observatory included indicators such as temperature and humidity, which could make the guidelines more concrete, the minister said.
“There will be more objective [indicators] for people to refer to,” he said.
Bosses must provide a work environment that is “safe and without risk to health,” the Occupational and Safety and Health Ordinance stipulates. It demands employers take measures to protect employees from heatstroke at work.
The Labour Department conducted around 20,000 site inspections during summer every year, Sun said, with a focus on high-risk jobs including construction workers, street cleaners and airport apron workers.
Asked if the authorities found any employers who breached the ordinance by not providing heatstroke protection at work, the labour minister said he did not have any data at hand, adding the government’s aim was not “immediate prosecution.”
“The key point is to… through large-scale promotion and inspection, give reminders to employers if they are not doing so well. For serious [cases], if the employer clearly did not fulfil their responsibility, we will prosecute them,” he said.
Sun urged bosses to let workers to take more frequent breaks in shaded areas, prepare “a lot of” cool drinking water or even install an ice-maker, as some construction sites had for workers to cool down their bodies.