Heat Stress and Adaptive Capacity of Low-Income Outdoor Workers and their Families in the City of Da Nang, Vietnam

As global average temperatures rise, heat-related illnesses are emerging as a major
health issue, with extreme temperatures being a leading cause of weather-related
fatalities in many cities. Heat stress is a particular concern in outdoor occupational
settings in developing nations such as Vietnam, where access to cooling systems is
limited.
This study, conducted in Da Nang city in 2012, explores the impact of heat stress on
unregistered migrant and outdoor workers, and examines the factors influencing their
adaptive capacity. The study employed both qualitative and quantitative research
methods, including questionnaires, in-depth interviews and policy reviews.
The study finds that heat exposure in the workplace is prevalent and serious, with
the vast majority of workers reporting very hot conditions in the workplace. This
is compounded by the fact that the provision of adaptive measures by employers is
limited, leaving workers to find their own solutions. This is especially the case for poor
female, freelance, migrant outdoor workers, street vendors and workers in medium
and small private enterprises, including construction workers, stone workers and other
outdoor occupations. These groups tend to be among the poorest, with limited access
to public services, local social support programmes or healthcare provision. Their
knowledge of adaptive and coping mechanisms to deal with heat stress is also limited.
At home, they employ coping rather than adaptive measures. The legislative framework
to regulate occupational hygiene and safety in the workplace and to protect workers’
health is comprehensive. However, its implementation is challenging because of the
complexity of the regulating documents, the lack of resources within the responsible
agencies, and the lack of cooperation and compliance with the law by employers. There
is no formal guidance protecting workers’ health in the context of increased and more
frequent heat waves, and no regulations on hygiene and safety for outdoor workers.
Appropriate responses will therefore become progressively urgent to protect vulnerable
workers from extreme temperatures. Findings from this research support the application
of interventions by a range of actors, including government guidance measures for
employers, improvement of health services in the treatment of heat stress, and capacity
development among the outdoor working population to build their knowledge and
awareness of, and resilience against, heat stress.