Saf Health Work.  2017 Mar;8(1):99-104. 10.1016/j.shaw.2016.08.005.

Occupational Heat Stress Impacts on Health and Productivity in a Steel Industry in Southern India

Affiliations
  • 1Department of Environmental Health Engineering, Sri Ramachandra University, Tamil Nadu, India. vvidhya@ehe.org.in

Abstract

BACKGROUND
Workers laboring in steel industries in tropical settings with high ambient temperatures are subjected to thermally stressful environments that can create well-known risks of heat-related illnesses and limit workers’ productivity.
METHODS
A cross-sectional study undertaken in a steel industry in a city nicknamed “Steel City” in Southern India assessed thermal stress by wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) and level of dehydration from urine color and urine specific gravity. A structured questionnaire captured self-reported heat-related health symptoms of workers.
RESULTS
Some 90% WBGT measurements were higher than recommended threshold limit values (27.2–41.7°C) for heavy and moderate workloads and radiational heat from processes were very high in blooming-mill/coke-oven (67.6°C globe temperature). Widespread heat-related health concerns were prevalent among workers, including excessive sweating, fatigue, and tiredness reported by 50% workers. Productivity loss was significantly reported high in workers with direct heat exposures compared to those with indirect heat exposures (χ2 = 26.1258, degrees of freedom = 1, p < 0.001). Change in urine color was 7.4 times higher among workers exposed to WBGTs above threshold limit values (TLVs).
CONCLUSION
Preliminary evidence shows that high heat exposures and heavy workload adversely affect the workers’ health and reduce their work capacities. Health and productivity risks in developing tropical country work settings can be further aggravated by the predicted temperature rise due to climate change, without appropriate interventions. Apart from industries enhancing welfare facilities and designing control interventions, further physiological studies with a seasonal approach and interventional studies are needed to strengthen evidence for developing comprehensive policies to protect workers employed in high heat industries.

Keyword

climate change; health risks; occupational heat stress; productivity loss; steel industry
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