Protection against summer heat - a field of action for the EU?

MB – 07/2023

Climate change is challenging us all and it requires us to adapt to changing conditions. This affects all areas of people's lives and their working lives as well. In particular, workers who are directly exposed to high temperatures (e.g. in the construction sector or in agriculture) must be effectively protected from the consequences of overheating and the associated stresses such as those caused by ozone.


EUROGIP a French interest group for issues related to the prevention and insurance of occupational accidents and diseases, has published "a study” about the issue of "working in hot weather", which describes the regulations and preventive measures that have already been developed worldwide.

A European framework is missing

The study makes it clear that the issue of protection from heat at work has not yet been regulated at European level. It is currently up to the individual member states whether and which measures they consider necessary to implement to protect against overheating. This leads to fragmented regulations within the EU. From the trade unions' point of view, a European framework with uniform standards for all member states makes sense. The council’s directive covering the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work (Health and safety at work - general rules ( is considered insufficient in this respect by the trade unions.

Which factors play a role here?

According to the study, not only high air temperatures but also high humidity, increased solar and thermal radiation and reduced air circulation all play roles in the "summer heat" issue. These factors would have a significant impact on the intensity of the employees' workload. But they would also show that thermometer measurements are inadequate as a guideline for preventive measures. Rather, an interplay of indices should be used to set limit values in the context of protection and prevention measures. There are various approaches to this (e.g Heat IndexHumidexWet Bulb Globe Temperature/WBGT). The WBGT in particular is already being used by some countries.

Different approaches by the nation states

Due to the absence of a European framework, individual European countries have created national regulations, which are examined in more detail in the study. Switzerland and the United Kingdom were also studied in addition to some EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain). It showed that the individual countries proceed very differently. This is already evident in the factors used in the risk assessment. They are regulated by law in Belgium and Spain. In Switzerland, SUVA has provided companies with a Liste de contrôle: Travailler à l’extérieur au soleil et sous la chaleur for determining heat stress.

In some member states there are regulations with maximum values, but this frequently only concerns enclosed spaces (e.g. in Germany as well). Belgium, Cyprus and Spain were also the first member states to introduce outdoor work regulations, which aim to provide better protection for vulnerable groups of workers.

The approaches of the countries regarding what should happen if the limit values are exceeded differ and primarily provide for preventive measures. Work must always be stopped if the maximum values are exceeded in Austria, Portugal and Spain. Companies can be sanctioned if this is not taken into consideration. According to the study, these few examples show that uniform European standards could be very useful.

Learning from each other

Climate change is not just a European problem, but a global one. The study also took a look at other countries and continents (e.g. Australia, China, Gulf States, Japan, South Africa, USA). This perspective is important because it allows European countries or the EU to adopt approaches from third countries and develop good heat protection measures for employees.  

Heat - is also an issue for German accident insurance

On the occasion of their anniversary event of DSV also discussed the effects of heat waves with high-ranking representatives on the issue of "Wind of change - social insurance in climate change".  Dr Edlyn Höller, Deputy Chief Executive of the German Social Accident Insurance, illustrated the importance of the issue by referring to a young track worker who died of multiple organ failures whilst working in high temperatures. Through this she underlined that climate change is not just a problem for older or weaker people. In Höller's view, climate change would not create a new risk as the change would be the extent to which the heat occurs.