Plight of Outdoor Workers under the Unusually High Temperatures at this time

By: Earl Russel F. Masongsong

El Niño 2023 threatens outdoor workers’ health, livelihood

LOS BAÑOS, LAGUNA — Some outdoor workers worry about their health and livelihood in view of PAGASA’s recently recorded 48 to 50 degrees Celsius highest heat indices and the state weather bureau’s announcement of El Niño occurrence in the following months in the country.

Last March, PAGASA officially issued an El Niño Watch in the country, indicating a 60 to 70% possibility of El Niño occurrence by the months of July to September. According to them, this heat phenomenon is even expected to continue until the first quarter of 2024.

In a press statement, DOST-PAGASA S&T Services said that El Niño phenomenon, which is the warm phase of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), “is characterized by unusually warmer than average sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Central and Eastern Equatorial Pacific (CEEP).” Relatively, when El Niño has a development rate of higher than 55%, an El Niño Watch is issued.

In view of this, some outdoor workers, including but not limited to street vendors, road officers, and delivery riders, are deeply concerned about their health—particularly the risk of acquiring heat-related illnesses.

Arthur Apolinario, who is a 50-year-old head road officer in Crossing, Los Baños, fears that he and his colleagues might suffer from heat stroke amidst work should this heatwave persist. “Kasi kalsada ‘yan e. Ang init nyan…usok, init ng kalsada, separate na init ng makina ng mga sasakyang dadaan sa amin, syempre nalalanghap din namin ‘yung mga usok nila,” he added.

The same also concerns Analiza, a 46-year-old candle seller in front of San Antonio de Padua Parish Church along El Danda St., Los Baños. She said, “‘Yon nga, baka ma-heat stroke. Ang hirap kasi ‘di mo alam kung kailan ka tatamaan. ‘Di mo naman masasabi kasi kahit na anong ingat mo ‘pag ka ikaw ay talagang ano…ay jusko po ang hirap…kaya lang talagang tiis.”

According to Dr. Jessie Imelda F. Walde, the director of the University Health Service (UHS) of UPLB, among the most common heat-related diseases, heat stroke is the most severe form one may experience. “When you say heat stroke kasi nagsi-seizure na eh, tyaka you cannot bring down the body temperature already,” she added. Related to this, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded 118 heat exhaustion incidents just in March 2023.

Aside from health concerns, several outdoor workers also worry that El Niño will affect their livelihoods. 

“Sa init na ‘yan naku panis lahat ‘yan. ‘Yang mga pilipit? Pag ‘di ko yan pinasok tunaw lahat ‘yan.” said Nanay Emma, a senior citizen street vendor. According to her, she even plans to stop selling soon as the El Niño phenomenon takes place considering that she suffers from high blood pressure. 

Roland, a delivery rider, also fears losing income given that it will be even more challenging for him to do his job under extreme heat. His fear is much worsened by the fact that he does not have any employee benefits. He said, “Magkasakit kami, ’di kami sagot ng pinapasukan namin. Wala kaming benefits e, walang tutulong sa ‘min kundi sarili lang namin e. Dapat ‘yung gobyerno ang tutulong ‘pag ano, nagbibigay din sana ng ano…benefits.”

With El Niño expected to linger for a long time—anticipated to torment the public, especially those working outdoors, with extreme and unpleasant heat—Nanay Emma, who has been selling Filipino rice cakes along Los Baños roadsides, could not help but say, “Ang hirap maging mahirap; sana all nasa aircon.”

As a preparation, Los Baños’ Municipal Health Office Facility Head Alvin Isidoro said that their office plans to promote and advocate disease prevention in view of this climate phenomenon. They also encourage the locals not to go out, especially during the peak hours of heat and to drink water to avoid dehydration. 

Relatively, Isidoro advised outdoor workers to start working early in the morning so they can rest at least for some hours and continue again when it is no longer that hot.  

“Kasi masyadong mainit ang climate ngayon and for sure it can really cause heat stroke and so much dehydration. Pero kung talagang hindi maiiwasan na mag work ng mga ganyang oras, mga…11 o’clock and 12 o’clock…yung mga kainitan, they should make sure na maghydrate sila by drinking water…and maiiwasan yung heat stroke.” Isidoro added.

Given the continuous climate temperature rise, the DOH shared some health reminders to avoid acquiring heat-related illnesses through their official Facebook page. Among these include drinking an adequate amount of water and staying well-hydrated, avoiding prolonged exposure to the sun, using sunblock/sunscreen, and wearing comfortable clothing.