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WORKING IN SPAIN

What do Spain’s labour laws say about working in extreme heat?

Is it legal to work in extremely hot conditions in Spain? Are there temperature limits? And does existing legislation apply to both indoor and outdoor work? Here's what workers in Spain need to know about their rights in this regard.

What do Spain's labour laws say about working in extreme heat?
What does Spanish law say about working in extreme heat? Photo: SPENCER PLATT / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez confirmed that Spain’s 10-day heatwave has left “more than 500 people dead”

One of these was a street cleaner, who died while working in Madrid on Friday July 15th as a result of heat stroke in temperatures over 40°C. 

Working in sweltering conditions is not only very difficult but can be dangerous too, so what are your rights as an employee and what does Spanish law say about working in extreme temperatures?

Working indoors

In indoor workspaces, where people are seated such as in an office, the law states that the temperature must be between 17°C and 27°C. 

And in those indoor workspaces where light work is carried out and people are moving around most of the time, it must be between 14°C and 25°C.

That means that legislation on working in extreme temperatures applies to both hot and cold weather.

The law also states that the humidity should be between 30 and 70 percent, except in places where there is a risk of static electricity, in which case the minimum should be 50 percent.

Spain’s Royal Decree 486/1997 annex V also states that there should be fresh water available in the workplace for all employees.

As the law was created in 1997, there are no such temperature limits set for remote workers or the self-employed (autónomos) who may not be able to keep their home office below 27°C if they don’t have air-conditioning.

READ ALSO: Ceiling fan vs air con in Spain: Which offers the better price-coolness ratio?

Working outdoors

It’s usually those who are working outdoors who are most affected by the heat, but surprisingly there aren’t any specific laws in Spain about working in extreme temperatures outside.

“There is no rule that establishes temperature limits to work outside,” confirms José de las Morenas, Secretary of Occupational Health for Spain’s General Union of Workers (UGT). 

However, several other experts, including Carmen Mancheño – Secretary of Occupational Health of one Spain’s main trade unions CCOO, agree that Spain’s Law on Prevention of Occupational Risks is enough to protect those working outdoors.  

Article 21 of this law states: “The worker will have the right to interrupt their activity and leave the workplace, if necessary, if they consider that said activity entails a serious and imminent risk to life or health”.  

Working in extremely hot conditions outdoors is definitely considered a health risk, meaning that workers are allowed to stop when they feel the heat is too much and it’s affecting their health. 

It’s worth keeping in mind though that lawyers say that this law is rarely resorted to and has to be completely justified.  

There may not be any set temperature limits for outdoor workers, but the law states that companies who are employing people to work outside must provide free equipment to protect them from the sun such as a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

They must also make sure there are places to rest in the shade, allow breaks when necessary and ensure employees are not working during the hottest part of the day.

On Tuesday July 19th, after the death of the street cleaner in Madrid, several city employers, as well as workers’ unions (CCOO, UGT and CGT), agreed upon a plan of action for outdoor workers during a heatwave. 

They have established three alert levels. Normal temperatures will indicate a green level, where companies must provide basic protection.

If temperatures rise above 36°C a yellow warning will be issued and shifts will change to the evening when it’s cooler.

Air-conditioned vehicles will be used and those who don’t have air-conditioned vehicles will have 10-minute breaks every hour to cool down. 

If temperatures rise above 39°C, an orange alert is issued meaning those who carry out manual labour outdoors will have shifts cancelled or changed to later and workers must go in pairs, never alone. 

What can I do if I feel it’s too hot to work and it’s affecting my health?

If you’re working indoors, it should be easy enough to check what the temperature is and ask your employers to increase the power of the air conditioner, thus cooling the air to less than 27°C. 

If you are a remote worker, you should check how hot your home office or lounge is and inform your boss if you feel it’s over the limit and it’s affecting the way you work. If you don’t have an air conditioner or an adequate fan at home or can’t afford one, it may be a reasonable request for your company to be able to provide a fan for you to work at home. 

For those working outside, it’s important to speak up if you feel unwell and let your employer know if you feel that the extreme heat is putting your health at risk. Make sure you are provided with all the necessary equipment and are given enough breaks with plenty of water and shade. 

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WILDFIRES

Heavy rainfall helps contain huge wildfires in Spain’s Valencia region

Heavy rainfall on Wednesday night has helped contain huge wildfires raging in two areas of Spain's Valencian Community.

Heavy rainfall helps contain huge wildfires in Spain's Valencia region

A record-breaking heatwave and historically low rainfall have combined to cause wildfires across Spain this summer, with thousands of hectares burned in southern Extremadura and as far north as Asturias. 

This week the eastern Valencia region has struggled with two major fires. In Bejís, 70 kilometres northwest of Valencia, strong winds contributed to spread the blaze which has so far burnt up 10,000 hectares of land and forced the evacuation of 1,500 people.

READ MORE: Firefighters battle to control huge wildfire in Spain’s Valencia region

READ ALSO: Are Spain’s wildfires a risk to people’s health?

In the south of the region, another fire began when lightning hit the Vall d’Ebo area in Alicante province late on Saturday night. Like in Bejís, strong winds caused the blaze to spread and burned 11,000 hectares. The fire has forced the evacuation of more than 1,000 people, according to Valencia’s regional government.

In the Vall d’Ebo, locals were evacuated from the municipalities of Famorca, Facheca, Tollos, Beniaia, Benimassot, Benirrama and Beniali. 

In Bejís, the municipalities of Toràs, Bejís, Sacañet and Teresa were evacuated.

However stormy weather overnight has offered some respite to locals and firefighters and emergency services tackling the blazes. In Bejís, rains have helped party extinguish the flames, and down in Alicante heavier rain has all but done the job of the fire brigade for them. 

Between 14 and 20 litres of rain per square metre were recorded overnight in Bejís, which have significantly reduced the flames firefighters are facing, and in Alicante, around 40 litres/sqm of rain in 12 hours allowed emergency services to confirm on the morning of August 18th that there were no longer any active flames in the Alicante area.

READ ALSO: What to do and what to avoid if you witness a forest fire in Spain

“The perimeter is more stable after the rainfall. There has been a small reproduction in the Benimassot area, but it is already controlled,” emergency services said.

The entire Valencian Community remains on extreme alert level due to the risk of forest fires throughout the region.

Wildfire season

So far this year, Spain has suffered 391 wildfires, fuelled by scorching temperatures and drought conditions, which have destroyed a total of 271,020 hectares of land, according to the latest figures from the European Forest Fire Information System.

This year’s fires in Spain have been particularly devastating, destroying more than three times the area consumed by wildfires in the whole of 2021, which amounted to 84,827 hectares, the figures show.

Scientists say human-induced climate change is making extreme weather events, including heatwaves and droughts, more frequent and intense. They in turn increase the risk of fires, which emit climate-heating greenhouse gases.

READ MORE: ‘Thousands of hectares’ destroyed by wildfire in Spain

Fires have blazed across Europe, particularly in France, Greece and Portugal, making 2022 a record year for wildfires on the continent.

In Portugal, a wildfire brought under control last week reignited Tuesday in the UNESCO-designated Serra da Estrela natural park, the civil protection agency said.

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