“Too hot to work”, on Arte: productivity put to the test of global warming

Image taken from the documentary “Too hot to work” (2023), by Mikaël Lefrançois and Camille Robert.


Heat and work have never gone well together. And in an overheated world, climate change, with its increasingly frequent heatwaves, is becoming a concrete threat for hundreds of millions of “frontline” workers.

Health in danger, productivity in decline: how to continue to work as before in a warmer world? Can the economic model based on high productivity last? Because it makes us work less quickly and less well, heat causes the global economy to lose more than 2,000 billion dollars (around 1,830 billion euros) each year.

With this documentary which, from Qatar to France via the United States, India, Italy or Nicaragua, sheds light on the formidable phenomenon of heat stress by analyzing the health, economic and environmental issues, Mikaël Lefrançois and Camille Robert have done a remarkable job. They interviewed doctors, architects, economists, heads of NGOs and political leaders whose analyses, coupled with the stories of men and women describing their working conditions unsuited to high temperatures, allow us to better understand the urgency of the situation.

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Death, serious kidney disease, fainting, the effects of the climate are terrible for workers who often suffer from hellish speeds and are not protected from scorching temperatures. Main victims: construction workers, in the Gulf countries but also in Europe. In India, the textile workers crammed into gigantic poorly air-conditioned hangars, or the very many seamstresses at home, working in slums where sheet metal and cement trap the heat.

Heart attacks and kidney diseases

Other victims: agricultural workers, like those sugar cane cutters in Central America who work in archaic conditions. The high temperatures associated with intense muscular work and too few breaks cause heart attacks and kidney disease.

Another striking example is that of the delivery drivers of the UPS company in the United States: harassed in real time by managers who track down every minute lost, they have to make between one hundred and thirty and two hundred deliveries a day in an unair-conditioned truck where the temperature can rise up to 50 degrees! Accused on numerous occasions by the American labor inspectorate, the management of UPS claims to care about the health of its employees by equipping the trucks with ventilators and the delivery men with new, more comfortable uniforms. Obviously insufficient measures in a country where, in sixty years, the number of heat waves has tripled.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Heat wave: at more than 35°C, no perm at the hairdresser and the baker closes shop

The situation has become so worrying that Joe Biden and his vice-president, Kamala Harris, have taken up the subject, asking the government agency OSHA to work on regulations intended to prevent heat stress at work.

Judy Chu, Democratic Representative from California, has long fought to bring the climate threat into US labor law. In 2006, a law was implemented in California, requiring companies to take breaks and provide water when the temperature reaches 35 degrees. Sufficient ? Heat stress specialist, epidemiologist Tord Kjellström estimates that by the end of the century, at the current rate of warming, “15% of working hours will be lost”.

Too hot to work by Mikaël Lefrançois and Camille Robert (Fr., 2023, 93 min).

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