European trade unions call for EU law on maximum temperatures at work

European trade unions call for EU law on maximum temperatures at work
Credit: Belga / Bruno Fahy

The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), a syndicate of over 92 trade unions across Europe, calls on the European Commission for laws that set maximum temperature limits at the workplace.

The call comes after extreme heatwaves this summer has caused the deaths of two workers in Spain, who suffered heatstroke while on the job.

In France – where temperature limits are not set – 12 people have died from heat-related accidents at work since 2020.

"Similar tragedies will become more common without legalisation on safe working temperatures," the trade union stated in a press release.

While some countries such as Belgium and Hungary have limits set in place, the union states that a common EU temperature limit is necessary to protect all workers.

In Belgium, people with a light physical workload can work in a maximum heat of 29 °C, a moderately heavy workload at 26 °C, 22 °C for heavy physical workloads and at 18 °C for a very heavy physical workload.

In contrast, Hungary has set higher maximum working temperatures, at 31°C for sedentary or light work, 29°C for moderate physical work and 27°C for heavy physical work.

“The weather doesn’t respect national borders which is why we need Europe-wide legislation on maximum working temperatures," ETUC Deputy General Secretary Claes-Mikael Ståhl said in the release. “Politicians can’t continue to ignore the danger to our most vulnerable workers from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices.”

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The World Health Organization (WHO) states the optimal working temperature is between 16 and 24°C. The risk of workplace accidents increases when the temperature rises above this threshold. Early symptoms of heat stress include dizziness, headache and muscle cramps which then can lead to vomiting, loss of consciousness and death in extreme cases.

ETUC also says the EU and national governments need to enforce workplace temperature limits by reversing the cuts to labour inspectors that have taken place over the last decade. According to their research, inspections have been cut by a fifth since 2010, falling from 2.2 million annual visits to 1.7 million.

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