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Heat exhaustion in a deep underground metalliferous mine
  1. A Michael Donoghuea,
  2. Murray J Sinclaira,
  3. Graham P Batesb
  1. aThe Medical Centre, Mount Isa Mines, Mount Isa, Queensland 4825, Australia, bSchool of Public Health, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia 6845, Australia
  1. Dr A Michael Donoghue, Senior Research Fellow, Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre, Frank White Annexe, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia


OBJECTIVES To examine the incidence, clinical state, personal risk factors, haematology, and biochemistry of heat exhaustion occurring at a deep underground metalliferous mine. To describe the underground thermal conditions associated with the occurrence of heat exhaustion.

METHODS A 1 year prospective case series of acute heat exhaustion was undertaken. A history was obtained with a structured questionnaire. Pulse rate, blood pressure, tympanic temperature, and specific gravity of urine were measured before treatment. Venous blood was analysed for haematological and biochemical variables, during the acute presentation and after recovery. Body mass index (BMI) and maximum O2consumption (V˙o 2 max) were measured after recovery. Psychrometric wet bulb temperature, dry bulb temperature, and air velocity were measured at the underground sites where heat exhaustion had occurred. Air cooling power and psychrometric wet bulb globe temperature were derived from these data.

RESULTS 106 Cases were studied. The incidence of heat exhaustion during the year was 43.0 cases / million man-hours. In February it was 147 cases / million man-hours. The incidence rate ratio for mines operating below 1200 m compared with those operating above 1200 m was 3.17. Mean estimated fluid intake was 0.64 l/h (SD 0.29, range 0.08–1.50). The following data were increased in acute presentation compared with recovery (p value, % of acute cases above the normal clinical range): neutrophils (p<0.001, 36%), anion gap (p<0.001, 63%), urea (p<0.001, 21%), creatinine (p<0.001, 30%), glucose (p<0.001, 15%), serum osmolality (p=0.030, 71%), creatine kinase (p=0.002, 45%), aspartate transaminase (p<0.001, 14%), lactate dehydrogenase (p<0.001, 9.5%), and ferritin (p<0.001, 26%). The following data were depressed in acute presentation compared with recovery (p value, % of acute cases below the normal clinical range): eosinophils (p=0.003, 38%) and bicarbonate (p=0.011, 32%). Urea and creatinine were significantly increased in miners with heat cramps compared with miners without this symptom (p<0.001), but there was no significant difference in sodium concentration (p=0.384). Mean psychrometric wet bulb temperature was 29.0°C (SD 2.2, range 21.0–34.0). Mean dry bulb temperature was 37.4°C (SD 2.4, range 31.0–43.0). Mean air velocity was 0.54 m/s (SD 0.57, range 0.00–4.00). Mean air cooling power was 148 W/m2 (SD 49, range 33–290) Mean psychrometric wet bulb globe temperature was 31.5°C (SD 2.0, range 25.2–35.3). Few cases (<5%) occurred at psychrometric wet bulb temperature <25.0°C, dry bulb temperature <33.8°C, air velocity >1.56 m/s, air cooling power >248 W/m2, or psychrometric wet bulb globe temperature <28.5°C.

CONCLUSION Heat exhaustion in underground miners is associated with dehydration, neutrophil leukocytosis, eosinopenia, metabolic acidosis, increased glucose and ferritin, and a mild rise in creatine kinase, aspartate transaminase, and lactate dehydrogenase. Heat cramps are associated with dehydration but not hyponatraemia. The incidence of heat exhaustion increases during summer and at depth. An increased fluid intake is required. Heat exhaustion would be unlikely to occur if ventilation and refrigeration achieved air cooling power >250 W/m2 at all underground work sites.

  • heat
  • mining
  • ventilation

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