Cleaner in Spain died after working in the heat for hours in a polyester suit and winter boots

by Lorraine Williamson
Died working in the heat

MADRID – An employee of the Madrid municipal sanitation service died on Saturday after working hours in the heat. He suffered from heat stroke as had been working outside for hours in a temperature of almost 40ºC in polyester work clothes and winter boots. 

Before this worker died on Saturday after cleaning up the streets, unions had already requested a change of route and a change of uniform. Previously, employees of the municipal sanitation services had skin rashes and burns as a result of the plastic suits they wear which they can barely perspire. They use a material that gets very hot in the sun and that burns some people. 

The cheapest quote wins tender 

The cleaning companies that win the public tenders are usually the ones that offer their services the cheapest. In addition, they purchase all their material from companies that are also designated by the municipality and deliver the cheapest. Furthermore, every effort is made to keep costs as low as possible. 

Unions already pointed to risks in June 

Unions now say they requested a change to the cleaning routes as early as June at the city council. This allows workers to clean the shaded streets during the hottest hours of the day. But as long as the city council does not permit this, the concession companies cannot make this decision. Nor do they change the uniforms of their employees. 

Heat stroke killed Jose Antonio 

Saturday morning, one of the employees of the municipal sanitation service in the Puente de Vallecas neighbourhood died of heat stroke after spending three hours working at 40 degrees on Avenida San Diego. José Antonio González collapsed with a body temperature of 41.6º. At the time, it was 38.9ºC near where he worked. He was taken to Gregorio Marañon hospital, where he died a short time later. On Saturday, weather code orange was applied to the city, two days after the highest temperature ever recorded in July. 

Agree on heat protocol 

Today, Tuesday, unions and employers will meet to agree on a protocol against the heat. According to Manuel Soto, coordinator of the CGT union in Madrid, a fatality is needed before moving. “We have long asked to change the route, to change the shoes, to replace the brooms that cause burns. All this long before there was a fatality. The last letter I sent them was from June 16,” explains Soto. That fact has been verified by the website El Salto. 

The deceased worker, José Antonio González, was 60 years old and had a temporary summer contract with the Urbaser company. He had only been on the job for 15 days. Urbaser has been managing the Vallecas area since 2021. 

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Mayor shrugs off responsibility 

The mayor of Madrid, José Luis Rodríguez Almeida, was silent in all languages ​​over the weekend. During a press conference on Monday, he told several journalists that the uniforms had been “approved” and that they “in principle comply with occupational hazard regulations”. He then pointed to the Labour Inspectorate as responsible. This falls under the Ministry of Employment Minister Díaz. She should have intervened, according to the mayor. 

Labour Inspectorate has warned companies 

According to ElDiario.es, the Labour Inspectorate has previously requested the company Urbaser to better protect its employees against the heat. In addition, as in previous years, the Inspectorate launched an information campaign about occupational risks due to heat with a massive mailing of more than 115,000 letters to companies. 

In this summer’s campaign, which the minister himself presented on June 17, it was announced that in addition to the traditional sectors (agriculture and construction), the catering and industry and other activities that are carried out outside such as gardening, waste collection or street cleaning were now addressed. Cleaning company Urbaser falls under the latter category. 

Minister Díaz has stated that the Labour Inspectorate has taken action from the day of the accident and will take all necessary measures.” Díaz recalled that companies must “guarantee good working conditions in stressful conditions such as a heat wave”, but clarified that “it appears that the conditions were not the best”. 

No response from the cleaning company 

Urbaser declined to respond to inquiries from ElDiaro.es. The newspaper reports that it has confirmed that the company received a letter from the Labour Inspectorate at the beginning of July to warn about the risks of the high temperatures for the workers. 

Too late for Jose Antonio 

“José Antonio could not bear the uniform. The polyester hardly breathes and ensures that the temperature in the suit is higher. In addition, it causes injuries and chafing on the body. In addition, the pace they impose on you to meet deadlines and complete your task at the agreed time is very high. If you don’t cover the set times, you will be punished. There are inspectors from the city council who check that” Manuel Menéndez, representative of the trade union CCOO Madrid, explains to elDiario.es. 

Also read: Heatwave causes 360 deaths over 5 days in Spain

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