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Workers wilt as summer scorches

K. Lakshmi
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Those working outdoors have little choice but to carry on toiling despite May bringing in merciless heat. —Photo: R. Shivaji Rao
Those working outdoors have little choice but to carry on toiling despite May bringing in merciless heat. —Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

Every year, from April to June there is only one thought that consumes city residents — how to avoid the searing heat.

Catching an air-conditioned MTC bus, drinking gallons of water and staying indoors may work for some, but not everybody can avoid the scorched outdoors. Several builders across the city are expediting construction projects, and for this, labourers have had to work all day, and sometimes into the night, to meet deadlines.

Jayalakshmi Velannan, a construction worker starts her day around 7 a.m. at a site in Korattur.

“I start work early these days, when the sun is not very harsh. I cannot avoid being exposed to the sun as my family depends on my earnings. I also cannot afford to take more than a one-hour break from work. I try to drink fruit juices and tea regularly,” she said.

Many workers say they drink at least four litres of water to keep themselves hydrated. Some say that on large construction sites, they try to complete work on indoor portions when the sun is at its worst between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Raju, a construction worker in Retteri, said: “I sometimes sit in the shade and complete my work bending steel bars when it gets very hot. Some of us take turns taking a break for about two hours,” he said.

Some builders say they help workers cope with the heat by supplying fruit juices on site and giving them short breaks from time to time. J.R. Sethuramalingam, past vice president (south), Builders’ Association of India, said that labourers are allowed to take breaks between 12.30 p.m. and 3 p.m. The pouring of concrete is done in the night, when it is cooler, he said.

“In this weather, productivity drops to 70 per or 80 per cent. But that is to be expected,” he added.

Traffic police officers too, are hard hit in the summer months, with having to stand for long hours on blazing roads, battling vehicle fumes. A traffic policeman in Thirumangalam said they were allowed to split their work hours into two schedules, and work for four hours.

“I alternate my duty shifts. But in some areas there are no traffic umbrellas or any shade and so it is hard to escape the heat. If we do avoid standing on the roads, it merely encourages motorists to violate rules. Even if I suffer from heat-related problems or feel dizzy, I continue to work,” he said.

Traffic police officers said their department provides them with juices and buttermilk, from time to time. A pith hat with thermocol padding given to them has helped reduce sweating, they said.

For Metro Rail workers though, regulating traffic for short periods is their way of taking a break from other labour. P. Sahu, a worker from Orissa, said, “I came here to work about a year ago. I take a break for about an hour to regulate traffic whenever I am tired.”

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