Microclimates and heat islands: Climate change exacerbates occupational heat exposures for Australian workers (7269)
Abstract:Australia’s hot climate can readily exceed human heat tolerance thresholds. Excessive heat exposure is uncomfortable and results in a raft of symptomatology, increasing in severity through to coma and death. The national heat health burden is difficult to quantify, although morbidity, mortality and exposure studies are now emerging. Occupational exposure continues to present specific challenges, and despite the growing understanding of the many heat hazards such as radiant heat, urban heat island effects and heat generation through exercising muscles, occupational health and safety guidelines are lacking. This is primarily due to insufficient evidence. Our aim was to measure occupational exposures, and to do this, we first needed to design low cost, reliable equipment for recording ambient temperature, relative humidity, and Wet Bulb Globe Temperatures.
Low cost Lascar data loggers were inserted into purpose built Gill screens and black globes. During the summer of 2012-2013, these were subjected to a testing procedure and design refinement process. We then validated the equipment against Bureau of Meteorology equipment situated at airports, and the Quest Temp 36. We then measured the thermal environments of worksites in the ACT, NSW and Victoria, and recorded workers’ tolerances to heat exposure.
The relatively cheap to manufacture heat measuring equipment produced results with sufficient accuracy for use in population field studies. Australian occupational environments present microclimates that are substantially different from the published BoM data measured in the shade often at aerodromes.
We present our methodology for assessing thermal load and provide baseline data of current thermal exposures of Australian workers across a range of working environments. Projections of hotter summers necessitates that Australia embark on a program to prepare the workplace and working practices to protect human health.