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Mayday, mayday: NSFs, construction workers bearing the brunt of sweltering weather

SINGAPORE — One full-time national serviceman (NSF) described the heat as so intense that “you could roast baby back ribs in my boots and they would come out well-done”. 

Workers at a construction site along Ophir Road on May 13, 2022.

Workers at a construction site along Ophir Road on May 13, 2022.

  • Full-time National Servicemen told TODAY how the sweltering weather has impacted them
  • The Singapore Armed Forces has implemented safety measures to prevent and combat heat-related illnesses
  • The intense heat has been a pain for construction workers, too
  • For those who do road resurfacing, it is a double whammy as they have to deal with hot substances

SINGAPORE — One full-time national serviceman (NSF) described the heat as so intense that “you could roast baby back ribs in my boots and they would come out well-done”. 

And while Singaporeans have borne the brunt of the country's hottest May on record, consider the plight, too, of foreign construction workers, especially those doing road resurfacing, which involves working with hot substances.

The sweltering heat may have forced people to seek refuge in airconditioned environments, but that is hardly an option for NSFs and construction workers.

While the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has implemented safety measures to prevent and combat heat-related illnesses, NSFs interviewed by TODAY said they still feel the effects of the intense heat. They declined to be named as they are not authorised to speak to the media.

"It was extremely hot when I was in the sun and my black boots felt like they were on fire," said one NSF.

Another NSF said: "It felt like a sauna outdoors. I also sweat so much I could not urinate throughout the day."

However, they acknowledged that there are measures implemented to mitigate and respond to heat-related injuries.

These include cutting off exercises at a certain temperature, giving NSFs a stipulated amount of time to rest, and providing NSFs with water breaks.

"Medical teams are also on standby and they arrive in 10 minutes if there are signs of heat injury," one NSF said.

In response to TODAY's queries, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said the the Army did not see an increase in heat-related injury cases during this period.

"We monitor the weather closely and implement the appropriate heat prevention measures like the Work Rest Cycle based on Wet Bulb Globe Temperature during training, hydration regimes, and heat acclimatisation programmes,” said Mindef.

"Moreover, during the hotter months of April to June, the SAF also implements enhanced prevention measures to reduce heat injury, such as the modification of attire and load for strenuous activities.”

The conditions are set to persist for some time. The National Environment Agency has said that the days are forecast to be drier and hotter for the remainder of May, with daily maximum temperatures predicted to range between 34°C and 35°C on most days.

CONSTRUCTION WORKERS FEELING THE HEAT

The intense heat has been a pain for construction workers, too.

Mr Islam Md Saiful, 29, a roof worker, said that the heat has caused workers like himself to develop cramps and even heat stroke.

And for those who do road resurfacing, it is a double whammy as they have to deal with hot substances.

"The premix (mixtures of ingredients to produce road surfaces like tar) is very hot and the workers have to work under that heat and the sun," said Mr Rajoo Kathirasen, 85, a resident technical officer for building and civil engineering.

Construction companies said they have a host of mitigating measures to help workers beat the heat.

Mr Wong Tai Son, 36, a project manager, said that he often reminds workers to drink more water.

"I also tell them to stop working and take a rest when they feel symptoms of heat stress," he added.

Mr Sankar Raja, 27, also a project manager, said that he organises water breaks for his workers every three hours.

Mr Low Kim Fatt, 51, a managing director at Stars Builder, said his construction firm has a "rotation schedule", where outdoor and indoor workers are alternated every hour.

"This is to ensure they do not spend too much time in the heat," he said. "Canvas shelters are also (erected) whenever possible to provide shade for the workers."

But even after work, some migrant construction workers are unable to find reprieve from the heat.

Mr Islam said that workers' dormitories are generally overcrowded, with 10 to 15 workers sharing a room, and it can feel "suffocating" at times.

Mr Uddin Mohammad Jasim, a 30-year-old construction worker, also said that his dorm, which houses 10 workers, is hot at night despite having three ceiling fans.

In response to TODAY's queries, a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said: "MOM did not see an increase in heat-related injury cases among workers in the past month”. 

Under the Workplace Safety and Health Act, employers of migrant workers are held accountable if they suffer from any heat-related illnesses.

Some of the measures recommended for preventing heat stress under the Workplace Safety and Health Guidelines include ensuring adequate water intake, providing workers with shaded rest areas, and scheduling work to reduce workers’ exposure to intense heat.

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