Heat plan, extra breaks: How Belgium is tackling its latest heatwave

Heat plan, extra breaks: How Belgium is tackling its latest heatwave
Credit: Belga/Jacques Collet

As Belgium will be experiencing a real heatwave in the coming days, various sectors are taking measures such as extra breaks and early closures to make the workload easier for the second time this summer.

While the nearly 40°C temperatures in mid-July saw certain shops close early and trains being cancelled, the measures taken during this week's heatwave will focus more on specific sectors.


While supermarkets will remain open during their usual hours, the companies are taking some extra measures to protect their staff against the heat.

"In this period of heatwave, we open the specific area called 'Summer Blitz' in the shops: this is an area dedicated to drinks and more particularly water," Siryn Stambouli of Carrefour told Het Nieuwsblad.

"Above a certain temperature, [water] is the only drink that people buy to really quench their thirst," she said. "We know that above 25°C, still water sales rise by 7% a day and sparkling water sales by 10%. Sales of all soft drinks rise as well."

Additionally, once the temperatures passed 30°C, sales of alcohol and soft drinks fall, while the demand for water (especially sparkling water) rises even further.

"For our shop employees, we adjust working hours by providing more breaks," Stambouli said. "For the health of our employees and to make sure they are well hydrated, we provide water and ice."

A 'heat plan' for the construction sector

With a heat plan, the Confederation of the Construction Industry wants to better protect companies' construction workers against high temperatures.

"Together with experts, we drew up this plan a few months ago. We cannot make anything compulsory, but it concerns advise that we strongly recommend," spokesperson Sven Nouten told VRT. "Most of our members already do this automatically in the summer."

The recommendations include starting work earlier, building modules in the workshop in advance instead of on the building site outside, task rotation on the building site so workers can more quickly alternate work in the sun with work in a sheltered location, and taking regular breaks.

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"I also make sure that my guys have enough to drink and the people of the office occasionally bring out some ice cream to the construction site," Larris Hendrickx, manager at Hendrickx Roofing Services in the Antwerp municipality of Arendonk, said on local radio.

"On site, we also look at the position of the sun on the roof and try to start where the shade is," he added.

According to the Confederation of the Construction Industry, the heatwave and the accompanying measures will have little impact on productivity. "Construction work may happen at a slightly lower rate, but companies will stay busy. So we hardly expect any delays due to the heat."

Waste collection

When temperatures above 30°C are recorded, many waste collection services start earlier and/or stop earlier to avoid the hottest part of the day, and container parks also close an hour earlier than usual.

The IVBO cast collectors in the city of Bruges will also get special clothing, such as caps to protect their heads and faces, and they will also be allowed to wear shorts.

"It is a pilot project, at the request of our employees. We will evaluate it after the summer because shorts entail risks, as our collectors can be injured more easily by sharp objects in the bin bags," Siska Leten of IVBO explained.

Additionally, many inter-municipal waste collection associations also provide sun cream and extra water for their employees. Sometimes citizens also spontaneously offer soft drinks. "We hereby issue a fresh call to do just that. Our people really appreciate this token of appreciation," she added.

Festivals and events

A number of festivals are taking place this month, and nearly all of them are taking measures to make the heat more bearable.

At the Lokerse Feesten in the East-Flanders province, the heat plan is active and extra water is provided, although the performances mainly take place in the evening when the sun is not burning as hard.

For the Antilliaanse Feesten in the Antwerp municipality of Hoogstraten next weekend, the fields will be watered and sprayed preventively so that the underground does not become too dry and arid. The campsite will also have extra showers and drinking water facilities. Visitors can also expect extra sunscreen.

Lastly, the traditional 100 km 'Death March' ('Dodentocht' in Dutch) starting on Friday will be exceptionally be shortened to 65 km for the first time in its history.

Additionally, the organisation will provide extra water at every checkpoint, and people living along the route are asked to put a bucket of water outside with a sponge in it, so that passing participants can refresh themselves.

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