Statement of the Problem: Workers labouring in high thermally stressful environments are subjected to heat-strain and risks of heat-related health issues.
Methodology A cross-sectional study was conducted with ~700 workers engaged in heavy/moderate labour from various organised occupational sectors in India. Wet Bulb Globe Temperatures(WBGT) and heat-strain indicators such as Core-body-temperature(CBT), Heart-Rate(HR), Sweat-Rate(SwR), Urine-Specific-Gravity(USG) were measured. A questionnaire captured self-reported health symptoms of workers.
Findings About 73% of the WBGT measurements were above prescribed limits(Range:26.5°C–38.7°C) and WBGT>31.0°C was associated with significantly more heat-related health concerns among workers(89% vs 34%). Measured heat-strain indicators were above accepted levels for 60% workers, 72% had symptoms of dehydration and 49% suffered from urogenital issues. Workers had 1.4 times higher odds of heat-strain at WBGTs>29.0°C(CI 1.06 to 1.95; p=0.019), that was more pronounced during hotter seasons (CI 1.41 to 2.53; OR=1.9, p<0.0001) with significant increases in heat-related illnesses(X2=66.088; p=4.311e-16) and productivity losses(X2=62.68;p=0.024*1012). High prevalence of kidney stones and adverse renal issues(9%) in steel industry was significantly associated with years of chronic heat exposures(t=−2.3823, df=66.628, p-value=0.02006, 95% CI 0.44–0.03).
Conclusion The results demonstrate that high-heat conditions and minimum cooling interventions that are common in many occupations could create a ‘silent epidemic’ of kidney-related illnesses without appropriate work practices in tropical settings. The study results warrant an urgent need for further in-depth research with a multi-targeted seasonal approach to identify causalities and to develop and implement appropriate preventive measures to avert adverse effects of heat on the working population in the rising temperature scenario as Climate Change proceeds.
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