The epidemiology of occupational heat exposure in the United States: a review of the literature and assessment of research needs in a changing climate

Abstract

In recent years, the United States has experienced record-breaking summer heat. Climate change models forecast increasing US temperatures and more frequent heat wave events in the coming years. Exposure to environmental heat is a significant, but overlooked, workplace hazard that has not been well-characterized or studied. The working population is diverse; job function, age, fitness level, and risk factors to heat-related illnesses vary. Yet few studies have examined or characterized the incidence of occupational heat-related morbidity and mortality. There are no federal regulatory standards to protect workers from environmental heat exposure. With climate change as a driver for adaptation and prevention of heat disorders, crafting policy to characterize and prevent occupational heat stress for both indoor and outdoor workers is increasingly sensible, practical, and imperative.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank David Michaels, PhD, MPH, Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA and Professor (on leave) in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services for his valuable review and comments.

Conflict of interest statement

Diane Gubernot has no financial disclosures and is an employee of the US Food and Drug Administration. The content of this manuscript is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the US FDA. Dr. Hunting has no financial disclosures. Dr. Anderson has no financial disclosures.

Funding

Dr. Anderson was supported by an R21020152 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences or the National Institutes of Health.

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Gubernot, D.M., Anderson, G.B. & Hunting, K.L. The epidemiology of occupational heat exposure in the United States: a review of the literature and assessment of research needs in a changing climate. Int J Biometeorol 58, 1779–1788 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00484-013-0752-x

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Keywords

  • Occupational health
  • Heat exposure
  • Heat illnesses
  • Worker safety
  • Climate change