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Evaluation of Occupational Exposure Limits for Heat Stress in Outdoor Workers — United States, 2011–2016
Filetype[PDF-240.76 KB]


Details:
  • Alternative Title:
    MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep
  • Description:
    Heat stress, an environmental and occupational hazard, is associated with a spectrum of heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke, which can lead to death. CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) publishes recommended occupational exposure limits for heat stress (1). These limits, which are consistent with those of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) (2), specify the maximum combination of environmental heat (measured as wet bulb globe temperature [WBGT]) and metabolic heat (i.e., workload) to which workers should be exposed. Exposure limits are lower for workers who are unacclimatized to heat, who wear work clothing that inhibits heat dissipation, and who have predisposing personal risk factors (1,2). These limits have been validated in experimental settings but not at outdoor worksites. To determine whether the NIOSH and ACGIH exposure limits are protective of workers, CDC retrospectively reviewed 25 outdoor occupational heat-related illnesses (14 fatal and 11 nonfatal) investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from 2011 to 2016. For each incident, OSHA assessed personal risk factors and estimated WBGT, workload, and acclimatization status. Heat stress exceeded exposure limits in all 14 fatalities and in eight of 11 nonfatal illnesses. An analysis of Heat Index data for the same 25 cases suggests that when WBGT is unavailable, a Heat Index screening threshold of 85°F (29.4°C) could identify potentially hazardous levels of workplace environmental heat. Protective measures should be implemented whenever the exposure limits are exceeded. The comprehensive heat-related illness prevention program should include an acclimatization schedule for newly hired workers and unacclimatized long-term workers (e.g., during early-season heat waves), training for workers and supervisors about symptom recognition and first aid (e.g., aggressive cooling of presumed heat stroke victims before medical professionals arrive), engineering and administrative controls to reduce heat stress, medical surveillance, and provision of fluids and shady areas for rest breaks.
  • Pubmed ID:
    29975679
  • Pubmed Central ID:
    PMC6048976
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