The Labor Inspectorate warned the Urbaser company before the summer season began that it must protect its employees against the high temperatures forecast for this summer. This Friday, just a few weeks after that notice, a sweeper from this company, which the Madrid City Council hired for its cleaning services, died of heat stroke while working in the Puente de Vallecas area of the capital.
An urban cleaning worker dies in Madrid due to heat stroke
José Antonio González had been on duty for three hours when he fell to the ground due to the heat. The emergency personnel found his unconscious body, with a body temperature of 41.6º and transferred him to the Gregorio Marañón hospital. There he died shortly after. At the time the worker suffered heat stroke, the State Meteorological Agency recorded a temperature of 38.9º at its Retiro station, the maximum of the day. In the capital that day there was an orange alert due to the high temperatures. That Thursday, the city reached its historical maximum.
The mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, who kept silent about the event over the weekend and did not even write a tweet of condolence, defended this morning when asked by journalists the legality of the uniforms worn by cleaning employees in the capital: has argued that they are “approved” and that “in principle they comply with the occupational risk regulations”.
In that press conference, Almeida has not only disassociated the City Council from any responsibility for that death but has also targeted the Ministry of Labor. "This is the responsibility of the Labor Inspectorate, which is the responsibility of the Ministry because they have powers in the area of occupational risk prevention and must act in the event that the uniforms are not correct," he said.
The department headed by Yolanda Díaz, however, warned the company at the beginning of the month, through the Labor Inspectorate, that it had to take measures to protect its workers from high temperatures. As in previous years, the Inspection launched an information campaign on occupational risks due to heat with a massive mailing of more than 115,000 letters to companies. In this summer's campaign, which was presented by the minister herself on June 17, it was announced that in addition to the traditional sectors (agriculture and construction), the work of dissemination, awareness and control was also extended to the hospitality and industry and other activities carried out outdoors, such as gardening, waste collection or street cleaning, activities to which Urbaser is dedicated.
"The Labor Inspectorate, from the very day of the accident, has been acting and we will take all the pertinent measures," declared the second vice president when asked by journalists about González's death. Díaz recalled that the company must "ensure working conditions in conditions that are being very burdensome due to the heat wave" but clarified that "it seems that the conditions have not been the best."
The company, which since June has had Fernando Abril Martorell as CEO, did not want to answer questions from elDiario.es. This newspaper is aware that Urbaser was one of the recipients in early July of the letter sent by the Labor Inspectorate to warn of the risks for workers due to high temperatures.
Almeida takes responsibility
During the press conference this morning, Almeida even maintained that "he did not know" that there were "complaints about the uniforms." Just four days ago, however, the mayor had admitted in an interview on Cadena SER, who was unaware that the cleaning employees' suits were made of polyester, after hearing the protest of a worker who called the program, and promised to review the situation with the companies. “I promise to speak with the Environment delegate and with the companies to see if improvements can be made [...] In heat waves like you are, a polyester uniform does not help you in the least or benefit you to be able to work”, he said then.
“José Antonio did not resist it. The polyester uniform with which the insole is worked makes it difficult to breathe, causing injuries and chafing on the body. But, in addition, the pace they impose on you to be able to meet deadlines and finish your task at the agreed time is unbridled. If you do not cover the stipulated times, they sanction you. There are inspectors from the City Council who control you, ”Manuel Menéndez, representative of the CCOO Madrid cleaning sector, explains to elDiario.es.
Almeida also guaranteed on the air that he would review another of the complaints raised by the sweeper: the closed shifts by area that cause many workers to work their hours permanently under the sun. If last Thursday Almeida promised, this morning he has also discharged responsibility on this matter. The mayor recalled that González belonged to a "contracted company" and stated that the Consistory has urged the winning companies to "talk to the unions to make shifts more flexible and improve cleaning."
This Tuesday the representatives of the UGT and CCOO of Madrid's road cleaning will sit down with the employers of the sector to request a protocol with more flexible hours; the substitution of the polyester fabric of the uniforms for a more breathable one; or the possibility of being able to do the afternoon or mid-morning routes through wooded and less hot areas. They will also request that the change of the old vehicles with which they operate, which lack air conditioning, be accelerated for those of the new fleet announced and presented in November of last year by the mayor.
No municipal protocols for heat
"This misfortune has had to happen for them to start taking action on the matter," laments Sherezade Talavera, head of street cleaning at UGT Madrid, who indicates that the capital does not have any protocol that regulates these works when temperatures reach extreme levels. , unlike the majority of municipalities in other provinces. “In Madrid none has ever been started. Every summer we reclaim it and every summer it gets hotter. But there is no way, ”she denounces, in statements to this newspaper.
The Almeida government awarded the new public space cleaning contracts in November. Until then, those approved by the Executive of Ana Botella were in force. The Consistory divided the service into several lots, which was awarded to five different companies. Urbaser received two of these lots: one for the districts of Fuencarral-El Pardo, Moncloa-Aravaca and Latina and one for Puente de Vallecas, Moratalaz, Villa de Vallecas and Vicálvaro. In total, 503 million euros for a period of six years. The other companies awarded were Ferrovial (through CESPA), OHL (Valoriza), Alfonso Benitez-Acciona Servicios Urbanos and FCC.
in the specifications published together with the tender by the Madrid City Council, appeared a series of requirements related to the clothing that the companies had to guarantee to their workers, but in no case a protocol of action or any specification referring to high temperatures: "The model of The uniform will be set by the Madrid City Council, establishing the quality (it will comply with the UNE EN ISO 20471 standard. Class 2 intermediate level) and the quantity of the uniform in accordance with the provisions of the Collective Agreement, and not being, in any case, less than two annual uniforms for each of the winter and summer periods, supplemented with the corresponding waterproof garments for the rainy periods”.
More than 800 heat accidents in the last decade
Not counting those who died this summer, there have been 12 workers officially recognized as having died from heat stroke since 2011 in Spain. Among these workers is not the day laborer Eleazar Blandón, who died of a heat stroke after being abandoned at the gates of a health center in Lorca (Murcia). The work accidents covered by this statistic are those suffered by workers who are affiliated with Social Security, so the group of immigrants without papers or those who have not been registered do not appear. After that episode, the Ministry of Labor began each summer with its campaign to raise awareness of high temperatures.
In addition to sending letters, the Ministry also carries out controls in work areas where there are high temperatures. Breach of the duty to protect the health and safety of employees can constitute a serious or very serious offense for companies, with fines ranging up to 49,180 euros for serious ones and up to 983,736 euros for very serious ones. From 2011 to May 2022, there have been more than 800 workplace accidents caused by heat. The Federation of Industry, Construction and Agriculture of the UGT (UGT-FICA), urges the implementation of the mandatory continuous day in summer.
“The latest deaths that have occurred at work as a result of the heat waves that are affecting the peninsula force us to adopt urgent measures to avoid more deaths of workers that can be absolutely preventable,” the union has denounced. These measures are already working in most of the provinces of Andalusia, Extremadura, Castilla La Mancha and Madrid.