Occupational Heat Stress in Australian Workplaces: Heat Strain Greatest in Military-related Activities

Research Paper Title

Occupational heat stress in Australian workplaces.

Background

The aim of this review was to summarise the current state of knowledge on heat stress risk within typical Australian occupational settings.

Methods

The researchers assessed identified occupations (mining, agriculture, construction, emergency services) for heat production and heat loss potential, and resultant levels of physiological heat strain.

A total of 29 reports were identified that assessed in-situ work settings in Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, that measured physiological responses and characterised the thermal environment.

Results

Despite workers across all industries being regularly exposed to high ambient temperatures (32-42°C) often coupled with high absolute humidity (max: 33 hPa), physiological strain is generally low in terms of core temperature (<38°C) and dehydration (<1 % reduction in mass) by virtue of the low energy demands of many tasks, and self-regulated pacing of work possible in most jobs.

Heat stress risk is higher in specific jobs in agriculture (e.g. sheep shearing), deep underground mining, and emergency services (e.g., search/rescue and bushfire fighting).

Heat strain was greatest in military-related activities, particularly externally-paced marching with carried loads which resulted in core temperatures often exceeding 39.5°C despite being carried out in cooler environments.

Conclusions

The principal driver of core temperature elevations in most jobs is the rate of metabolic heat production.

A standardised approach to evaluating the risk of occupational heat strain in Australian workplaces is recommended defining the individual parameters that alter human heat balance.

Future research should also more closely examine female workers and occupational activities within the forestry and agriculture/horticulture sector.

Reference

Jay, O. & Brotherhood, J.R. (2016) Occupational heat stress in Australian workplaces. Temperature (Austin, Texas). 3(3), pp.394-411. doi: 10.1080/23328940.2016.1216256. eCollection 2016.

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