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Working in hot environments.
NIOSH 1992 Jan; :1-12
The human body, being warm blooded, maintains a fairly constant internal temperature, even though it is being exposed to varying environmental temperatures. To keep internal body temperatures within safe limits, the body must get rid of its excess heat, primarily through varying the rate and amount of blood circulation through the skin and the release of fluid onto the skin by the sweat glands. These automatic responses usually occur when the temperature of the blood exceeds 98.6oF and are kept in balance and controlled by the brain. In this process of lowering internal body temperature, the heart begins to pump more blood, blood vessels expand to accommodate the increased flow, and the microscopic blood vessels (capillaries) which thread through the upper layers of the skin begin to fill with blood. The blood circulates closer to the surface of the skin, and the excess heat is lost to the cooler environment. If heat loss from increased blood circulation through the skin is not adequate, the brain continues to sense overheating and signals the sweat glands in the skin to shed large quantities of sweat onto the skin surface. Evaporation of sweat cools the skin, eliminating large quantities of heat from the body. As environmental temperatures approach normal skin temperature, cooling of the body becomes more difficult. If air temperature is as warm as or warmer than the skin, blood brought to the body surface cannot lose its heat. Under these conditions, the heart continues to pump blood to the body surface, the sweat glands pour liquids containing electrolytes onto the surface of the skin and the evaporation of the sweat becomes the principal effective means of maintaining a constant body temperature. Sweating does not cool the body unless the moisture is removed from the skin by evaporation. Under conditions of high humidity, the evaporation of sweat from the skin is decreased and the body's efforts to maintain an acceptable body temperature may be significantly impaired. These conditions adversely affect an individual's ability to work in the hot environment. With so much blood going to the external surface of the body, relatively less goes to the active muscles, the brain, and other internal organs; strength declines; and fatigue occurs sooner than it would otherwise. Alertness and mental capacity also may be affected. Workers who must perform delicate or detailed work may find their accuracy suffering, and others may find their comprehension and retention of information lowered.
Heat-exposure; Heat-exhaustion; Accident-prevention; Performance-capability; Mental-fatigue
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division