Europe weather: Heatwave set to hit France and Spain
France’s northeastern Champagne region has been marred by tragedy as at least four grape-pickers died while working in scorching 35C conditions during a late-summer heatwave.
Those who died included a 19-year-old seasonal worker in the Reims region, who died last Friday as temperatures reached an unseasonal 32C in the shade.
In response to the incidents, public prosecutors in the Champagne region have begun investigations to establish the circumstances surrounding the deaths.
The inquiries will focus on whether adequate safety measures were in place to protect workers during the extreme heat snap.
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Anthony Smith, a union representative at the French Labour Ministry, expressed concerns about the deaths.
He told radio broadcaster RMC: “With climate change, the situation is bound to get worse. In France, labour inspectors don’t have the power to stop an activity during severe heat or heatwaves.”
Each year, around 120,000 seasonal workers head to the Champagne region towards the end of summer to participate in the meticulous grape-picking process, a crucial step in producing the world-renowned French champagne.
Two people died in the southern Rhône valley, where grape-pickers also faced sweltering temperatures. One of these deaths is suspected to be linked to heatstroke, as reported by the local news website Actu.fr.
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To reduce the risks of serious injury and death in conditions, French authorities issued a warning in late August, advising grape-pickers in southern regions to start their work early in the morning to avoid the midday heat.
However, it appears that these precautionary measures were not sufficient to protect those working in the vineyards.
Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau acknowledged the challenges, adding: “To grow enough food, it is necessary to adapt the schedules … and at the same time continue to produce in conditions which are necessarily somewhat degraded.”
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