Europe battles wildfires as temperatures rise

Wildfires in western and southern France have intensified just as record high temperatures are forecast for today (Monday) of up to 42C. In the southwestern Gironde region, an estimated 11,000 hectares of forest have been lost to blazes in the last week. French authorities have evacuated 16,000 people from areas most at risk, while in Spain, around 20 wildfires are reported to be active across wide areas of the country.

In neighbouring Portugal, wildfires have killed two and injured around 60 as an estimated 15,000 hectares of land have been claimed so far. The current spate of wildfires in Europe has been one of the most widespread of recent times, with incidents also affecting Greece, Croatia and Hungary.

Meanwhile, in the UK, train companies have urged people not to travel on Monday or Tuesday unless absolutely necessary as high temperatures will significantly affect services. Speed restrictions will apply in a number of areas and the number of services running has been reduced, amid concern over the effect of the hot weather on some infrastructure, including rails and overhead power lines. Numerous services will be affected, including LNER’s East Coast Mainline route which will not be running at all on Tuesday from London to destinations like Peterborough, Leeds and York.

Although many have been told to work from home today, the Health and Safety Executive has reminded employers of their legal duty to ensure employees can work in reasonable temperatures in indoor workplaces. What is reasonable varies, and will depend upon the nature of the individual workplace.

There is no maximum temperature for workplaces, but the HSE points out that all workers are entitled to an environment where risks to their health and safety are properly controlled, adding that heat is classed as a hazard and comes with legal obligations like any other hazard. John Rowe, HSE’s acting head of operational strategy, said: “With a heatwave warning in place, its vital employers are aware of their responsibility to ensure their indoor workplaces are at a reasonable temperature. All workers have a right to a safe working environment and their employers should discuss working arrangements with them.”

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