No respite for outdoor workers despite sweltering weather

Today Online 22 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE — As an engineer at a shipyard in Tuas, Mr Azrul, 26, spends at least 10 hours a day working outdoors. The conditions are especially tough when he is on the ship’s main deck, fully exposed to the sun. “It’s even worse and more uncomfortable when I’m in the engine room where there’s extra heat produced by the running of the machinery and equipment,” he said.

Adding that he would frequently advise his colleagues to drink more water, he keeps a close watch on the new hires. “Because they are new, they tend to be scared to say when they feel unwell ... If they are unwell, I would have to refer them to the safety department,” he said.

Over at a construction site at Aliwal Street, Mr Govindarasu Suresh, 29, was toiling away despite the harsh weather. “Even if it is too hot, we cannot stop working. If we stop work, we cannot finish the job ... We won’t get paid and that will be a problem if we cannot send money home,” he said.

Mr Azrul and Mr Suresh are among the thousands of workers sweating it out and earning their livelihoods outdoors, even as the temperature here soared to a record high earlier this week. On Tuesday, the Changi climate station recorded the highest ever daily mean temperature of 30.6°C, beating the previous record of 30.2°C, which the station recorded last June. The highest daily maximum temperature recorded on Monday was 36°C at Choa Chu Kang. The long-term mean monthly temperature for April is 28°C.

The high temperatures prompted several Government agencies and ministries to issue a joint advisory on Wednesday to the public to take precautions against heat-induced illnesses.

In particular, employers were advised to schedule heavy, physical work or outdoor work to the cooler parts of the day. There should also be shaded areas for work and rest, and cool drinking water provided at convenient and accessible locations.

However, some workers whom TODAY spoke to yesterday said it was business as usual. An assistant engineer, who wants to be identified only as Mr Lingamm, said: “How many of the contractors do you think let the workers rest?” he asked. Expressing concern for the well-being of construction workers, for example, he said companies should be mandated to let their workers rest when temperatures soar.

Nonetheless, workers also take the initiative to look out for one another. Mr Suresh, who is a safety coordinator for his company’s construction project, said: “We all come from the same village (in India) so if they have any problems; if they need to rest, they can tell me directly.”

Meanwhile, the hot weather has also had an adverse impact on eateries with outdoor seating, particularly during lunchtime.

Mr Darshan Singh, a partner at Nasrin Restaurant, which specialises in Persian cuisine, said business has dropped by about half. “Not a lot of people want to come out for lunchtime and dine alfresco here,” he said.

Ms Siti, a branch manager at I Am... cafe, said: “We hardly have queues during lunchtime. Usually the office workers will come and fill up the space, but now there are tables available at this time,” she said. The eatery’s employees themselves are feeling the discomfort. “Our kitchen and bar staff have ... resorted to bringing their own hand-held fans to help cool themselves down,” Ms Siti added.

Pre-schools that TODAY approached said there have not been major changes to the curriculum as a result of the hot weather since the children are indoors most of the time. Ms Sharizan Osman, principal of Cambridge Preschool, said: “Our curriculum is planned such that outdoor times are between 8.30am to 10.30am. So far not many modifications have been made for the timing except to conduct physical activities indoors when the weather gets too warm during those timings.”

Parents are kept informed of the steps taken to ensure the safety and well-being of their children, she added.

At public schools, teachers were reminded to encourage the students to drink more water. Nevertheless, physical education lessons continued as per normal.

Based on forecasts by the Meteorological Service Singapore, high temperatures can be expected for the rest of the week, although a gradual easing is likely.

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