1619b Occupational health in desert environment

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Abstract

Occupational Health management in the Middle East presents many interesting and complex challenges. Some of the challenges are due to the climate and topography as might be expected. However other challenges may not be so obvious related to culture demography and politics.

In terms of climate, occupationally it is necessary to protect workers in temperatures of +50C plus, in many areas high temperature is combined with high levels of humidity. This presents a significant challenge and if with WBGT method of worker heat management was used then work would be curtailed for significant portions of the year. More flexible but effective approaches to heat management have to be adopted. The Holy month of Ramadan dramatically compounds the issues relating to heat exposure and resultant heat illnesses.

Distance is also a significant challenge some sites are very remote from health care and it is necessary to arrange medical evacuation routes to centres of medical excellence. Workers often live in work camps, and if not well managed infectious diseases like Norovirus, TB can significantly impact the workforce. Camp Health and Hygiene (food, water, sanitation, etc.) form an integral part of OH responsibilities.

Demographically in some countries in the Gulf of Arabia there are large numbers of migrant workers,>80% of the population in UAE and Qatar. These workers often have existing health concerns, which require ongoing management. Also they can bring diseases form their home locations to the area of work e.g. Malaria. Migrant worker welfare and CSR programs are an integral part of workplace health provision in these environments, which includes local competency building and nationalisation programs ultimately resulting in sustainable developments.

There are also the usual anxieties and psychiatric risk factors of living away from home and family which have significant impact on mental health. Programs need to be arranged to address these issues. Workplace resilience and wellbeing programs are critical factors in successful health delivery.

Lastly the security situation in the Middle East countries can impact Occupational Health. Not only with increased stress levels, but also impact upon the accessibility of internationally acceptable standards of health care, medical escalations and patient ground/air movements.

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