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Mandatory hourly breaks for some outdoor workers when weather gets too hot: MOM

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on Tuesday (Oct 24) introduced new rules that aim to protect outdoor workers from the risks of heat stress.

Among these enhanced measures, which take effect immediately, is a compulsory 10-minute break every hour for workers carrying out “heavy physical activities” when the temperature crosses a certain threshold.

“Unlike the general population, outdoor workers have less discretion over their work activities, and may be more exposed to heat stress,” said MOM.

It added that rising temperatures in Singapore place workers, especially outdoor workers, at an increased risk of heat stress. 

The new measures, which MOM consulted the Ministry of Health’s Heat Stress Expert Panel on, focus on four aspects: Acclimatise, drink, rest and shade. 

“New workers must be given time to gradually adjust to outdoor work and all outdoor workers must hydrate at least hourly,” said MOM. 

These new workers must also take regular rest breaks under shaded areas to dissipate accumulated body heat, it added. 

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MANDATORY BREAKS EVERY HOUR

Employers are also required to monitor the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) for every hour of outdoor work performed, especially during the hotter periods of the day. 

The WGBT, an internationally recognised measurement of heat, reflects the main environmental factors that contribute to heat stress. Besides temperature, it accounts for the effects of humidity, solar radiation and wind, providing a more accurate measure of what conditions actually feel like and their potential health risks.

In July, Singapore introduced a new service to help people gauge the risks related to heat while carrying out outdoor activities based on the WGBT. 

There are three levels of risk of heat stress in the Heat Stress Advisory – low, moderate and high.

When WGBT is 32 degrees Celcius or higher, “a minimum rest break of 10 minutes hourly under shade has to be provided to workers carrying out heavy physical activities”, said MOM. 

“For workers with pre-existing health conditions, the rest duration should be longer or as advised by their doctors.

Examples of “heavy physical activities” given by MOM include intense arm and trunk work, carrying, shovelling, manual sawing, pushing and pulling heavy loads, and walking at a fast pace. 

The rest duration should be increased with higher WGBT, heavier physical activity and if shade cannot be provided in work areas, said the ministry, adding that more rest may be required, depending on workers’ personal health condition.

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MOM added that shipyards, the process industry and construction sites with a contract sum of over S$5 million are required to have a WGBT meter on-site. Other workplaces can use the National Environment Agency’s myENV app to monitor WGBT readings. 

The requirement of a WGBT meter on-site for localised measurement is effective from Jan 1, 2024. 

Workplaces are also encouraged to have a “buddy system” for early recognition of heat injury symptoms and implement prompt interventions when any worker shows signs of excessive heat exposure.

“Employers will be required to implement these measures to reduce heat stress for outdoor workers,” said MOM. 

“MOM will conduct inspections at workplaces to ensure that these measures are adequately implemented.”

Employers who do not adhere to these new heat stress measures can be penalised under the Workplace Safety and Health Act. Punishments include stop work orders and composition fines.

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