How siestas might help Europe survive deadly heat waves
“The reason that most people work outside in the heat is because it's work that has to be done. But it doesn't have to be done exactly at that time when it is hottest,” says Stahl. If a temperature cap was introduced, he believes employers could respond by readjusting working hours. “If you go to countries in southern Europe with a long experience of heat, you will find that they do have siestas” he says. “I think that reflects generations of wisdom, and I think we need to listen to that wisdom.”
As temperatures rise, a union in Germany is also advocating for a longer lunch break so construction workers can avoid the hottest part of the day. “Climate change is here, and the number of hot days will increase in the next few years,” said Carsten Burckhardt of the Industrial Union for Construction, Agriculture and the Environment (IG BAU) in a statement. “We should think about a much longer lunch break. In Spain this is called a siesta.” In high temperatures, construction workers are exposed to heat stroke as well as skin damage, and they also have to handle very hot materials, he adds. A roof tile, for example, can get as hot as 80 degrees (176 Fahrenheit) in the sun.
Rescheduling not only protects employees from heat stress, it can also boost productivity, says Lars Nybo, a professor of human physiology at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, adding that this is what he found when he studied agricultural workers in Italy.
Yet Nybo recognizes that the longer lunch break comes with trade-offs, something Spain has already realized. “From the physiological point of view, it makes perfect sense,” he says. “But in a practical setting, it may make more sense to see if you can start two or three hours earlier and end the day sooner.”