Saigon construction workers adapt to scorching sun

Construction workers on Saigon’s first metro line wear hats, masks, sunglasses and gloves to keep working in sweltering conditions.

The heat wave that has sent the mercury soaring to 34-37 degrees Celsius has hiked up the RealFeel temperature, which indicates how hot it feels outdoors, to around 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Despite the searing temperatures, however, workers on Saigon’s Metro Line 1, the Ben Thanh-Suoi Tien link connecting the city’s 1, 2, 9, Binh Thanh and Thu Duc districts with neighboring Binh Duong Province’s Di An District, have had to continue working under the scorching sun.

At a construction site near the Hanoi Highway in District 2, some contractors allow works to start early, at 7 a.m., so that they could take a lunch break sooner than usual.

Unlike usual days, the workers wear scarves or face masks as added protection from harmful ultraviolet rays.

Over the past days, the ultraviolet index in HCMC has risen to extreme levels, posing health threats, including skin cancer from prolonged exposure.

At the Ben Thanh station area in District 1, people work with iron rods about 15 meters below ground level.

The tunnel is open and many ventilation fans cannot prevent the atmosphere from being sultry and suffocating.

A worker’s sunburned face. 

Bui Van Hai, 54, from the central province of Nghe An said he has worked for the metro line for six years and has never experienced such heat.

“It’s hot on the ground and under the station seems no better, but I have to try and get work done," he said.

Work started on the first metro line in August 2012, and so far, 60 percent of the project has been completed.

These days, water has to be on hand while working. At some construction sites, the contractor requires each worker to bring at least one bottle of water to keep them hydrated and avoid sunstrokes.

A worker stops to drink cold water. Outdoor workers exposed to high temperatures and the sun for a long time are at risk of sunstroke, sunburn and heat exhaustion, health experts have warned. 

“It was so hot that my face was roasted,” said Nguyen Thi Phuoc as she used a wet towel to wipe her face.

Some workers opt to bring lunch prepared from home so that they do not have to go out for food.

“On some days, when it was too hot, I have had to walk from this station to another one, nearly two kilometers away, and I would be exhausted. There would not be any energy left even to eat,” a worker said.

Working for hours under abnormally high temperatures is not easy. Here, a worker (left) takes a break in the shade of a concrete wall that lines the metro track.

Story and photos by Thanh Nguyen