Earthmoving News, Environment & Research, Workplace Health & Safety

Research investigates heat stress on construction workers

Construction workers in Kansas City had their internal body temperature monitored through a hot work day to monitor the impact of heat stress on the body

Researchers from the University of New Mexico have undertaken research into the impacts of heat stress on construction workers during summer – the first study to measure core temperature.

The researchers investigated the physiological response of construction workers during a summer workday in Kansas City where temperatures were around 32 degrees C and the weather humid. Participants took a pill that monitored their internal body temperature throughout the day.

“Humidity plays a major role in heat stress,” project lead professor Fabiano Amorim says.

“Our physiology allows us to dissipate heat from our body mainly through sweat evaporation, but when you’re sweating in a humid environment, it doesn’t work that way.

“You’re not cooling down your body, and then basically you’re dehydrating due to dripping sweat. In Kansas City, we faced a little bit of that, with the humidity around 50 to 70 per cent.”

With hard work, humidity, the sun, limited shade and water and being surrounded by concrete, the research team found that 43 per cent of workers experienced an internal body temperature of 38 degrees C, which increases the risk of heatstroke.

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“It is known that roofers and cement masons have the highest heat-related deaths. They are the ones that suffer more and die more from heat stress,” Amorim says.

“Roofers usually are exposed to the sun’s radiation, and that makes their jobs much harder. The sun sends the radiation that gets trapped by this roof’s black insulation material. This black material is basically like an oven that they are on top of.

“Then sometimes they want to have a break, and they don’t have a shade and then don’t want to get down. These people are at a higher risk, among workers already at a high risk.”

This study also revealed that despite a strong company push for water breaks, most workers arrived at the site dehydrated. That also showed higher ups that there needed to be a focus on hydration before and after work.

“Over 60 per cent of the workers were dehydrated getting to work,” Anorim says.

“Although the company provided water everywhere to these workers, they started the work shift dehydrated. That’s a problem because if you are dehydrated, you increase the chance that you have heat-related issues.”

Suggestions on how to address heat stress on sites include setting recovery times and providing shade to cool down workers. Anorim says this research is providing important information to regulators in order to produce guidelines for companies.

Research has already continued with a small sample of road construction workers in New Mexico.

“It was also very interesting data, even though it was smaller with only seven workers and just a day. Many of the things we observed in Kansas, such as dehydration pre-work shift, have been here,” he says.

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