HEAT ACCLIMATIZATION: WHAT IS IT AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

HEAT ACCLIMATIZATION: WHAT IS IT AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

Most heat-related deaths occur in the first few days on the job. Heat acclimatization can help prevent this.

A study of OSHA citations issued between 2012 and 2013 revealed 20 cases of heat-related illness or death of workers [Arbury et al. 2014]. In most of these cases, employers had no program to prevent heat illness, or programs were deficient; and acclimatization was the program element most commonly missing and most clearly associated with worker death.

How Do You Acclimatize to the Heat?

You might have already heard about heat acclimatization, but what is it and why does it actually make your job easier?

Heat acclimatization is a process where your body undergoes physiological changes that allow it better handle the heat— which means that your performance in the heat will improve and you are less likely to suffer from heat-related problems (e.g., heat cramps).

For heat acclimatization to occur, you typically have to increase your core body temperature by 1°C (~1.8°F) for at least 1 hour, repeatedly each day, for 5-14 days in a row (each person will take a different amount of time to acclimatize to the heat).

Physiological Changes that Occur with Heat Acclimatization

After your body is acclimatized to the heat, you will notice lots of different changes.

  1. Sweating: You will start to sweat sooner (at a lower core body temperature) and you will sweat more. This is important because it allows your body to cool off (through evaporative heat loss), which means that your body temperature will stay lower for the same work rate. (See a refresher on heat loss through sweating here). You may also notice that your sweat becomes less salty after you’ve been working in the heat for a while; this is because your body becomes more efficient at reabsorbing the salt in your sweat, which helps you stay better hydrated in the heat.
  2. Heart rate: Your heart rate at rest and during work (or exercise) will be lower after heat acclimatization. This is because you get an increase in plasma volume (the water in your blood) with heat acclimatization, which means that with each heart beat, you can now pump more blood (to get more oxygen to the working muscles). As a result, your heart rate will be lower for the same work rate. This means that you can work for longer in the heat without getting tired. (See a refresher here on heart rate changes with heat stress).
  3. Core and skin temperatures: Due to the improvements in your sweating (and improved ability to get rid of heat), your core and skin temperatures will be lower at rest and during work or exercise (for the same work rate). This, combined with a lower heart rate, means that after heat acclimatization, you can work harder for longer periods of time before needing to take a break because your body is staying cooler.

worker in hot field

Important Tips During Heat Acclimatization:

  • Make sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after the heat acclimatization period (your first two weeks on the job), and replace the water that you’re losing through sweating. This is especially important for helping your body to increase its plasma volume.
  • During heat acclimatization, you can lightly salt your foods as well as drink fluids with more sodium to help you stay hydrated and maintain your body’s electrolyte balance.
  • You can monitor your heart rate at the same time each morning before work (by taking your pulse) during heat acclimatization. You should see a decrease in your resting heart rate over the course of 1-2 weeks, which will indicate that you have likely acclimatized to the heat.
  • You should acclimatize to the environment that you will be working in. The changes that your body makes to a hot, dry environment will be different than those of a hot, humid environment.
  • Be aware of any signs & symptoms of heat injury & illness, and do not push yourself too hard the first week that you are just starting to work in the heat. This process takes time for your body to adjust, and trying to go too hard too fast will only result in serious accidents.
  • If you work in an environment with heavy clothing or PPE, if possible, you should start by wearing the most minimal clothing layer possible on the first 1-2 days, and then slowly adding each additional clothing layer (every 1-2 days) to give your body time to adjust over the course of the 1-2 week heat acclimatization period. As a rule of thumb: you can wear full PPE from day 6 onwards.
  • Lastly, remember that to maintain your heat acclimatization, you’ll need to be exposed to the heat at least once every 5 days. (See here for more info on the decay of heat acclimatization).

Need help figuring all of this out for your workers & work-site? Kenzen can help with our site-specific evaluations, heat safety training, and individualized. recommendations

HEAT ACCLIMATIZATION IS THE BEST “PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENT” OUT THERE (FOR WORK IN THE HEAT) BECAUSE IT IMPROVES YOUR PERFORMANCE AND KEEPS YOU SAFER— SO MAKE SURE THAT YOU (OR YOUR WORKERS) ARE HEAT ACCLIMATIZED!

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References:

Pryor, J. Luke, Christopher T. Minson, and Michael S. Ferrara. “Heat acclimation.” Sport and Physical Activity in the Heat. Springer, Cham, 2018. 33-58.

Coco, Aitor, Brenda Jacklitsch, Jon Williams, Jung-Hyun Kim, Kristin Musolin, and Nina Turner. “Criteria for a recommended standard: occupational exposure to heat and hot environments.” control Ccfd, editor (2016).

STAY HYDRATED DURING THE WORKDAY!

STAY HYDRATED DURING THE WORKDAY!

Water is essential to our body. It helps to digest foods, makes up a large portion of our blood volume, helps maintain our blood pressure, is a large component of our muscles (~80% of your muscles are water!), and helps to regulate our body temperature. Not only can dehydration impact your mood, but it can also impact your work in the heat.

Working in the heat is already hard enough mentally and physically. But if you’re dehydrated on top of that, you will experience even greater physiological strain, and you might notice that your mood and cognition are worse too. This combination of being dehydrated AND working in the heat will increase the odds of accidents at work, decrease your performance, and increase your risk for heat-releated injuries and illnesses. But don’t worry, there is an easy fix for this…. drinking water!

So how do you stay hydrated throughout the work day?

  • Start by drinking a glass of water when you wake up in the morning. Starting your day hydrated will help to keep your core temperature lower by allowing for your body to sweat adequately (and get rid of heat) throughout the work day.
  • If possible, carry a water bottle with you throughout the day to make drinking water easy and accessible. If it’s not cold water, don’t worry about it. Although it may not be pleasant to drink, warm water won’t necessarily make you hotter.
  • Don’t limit your water intake and always drink when you’re thirsty.
  • NIOSH & OSHA recommend drinking ~8 oz water (1 cup) every 15-20 minutes. But may not be the correct amount for you. For a more accurate hydration plan, you’ll need to calculate your normal sweat rate. Kenzen can help you & your team with this. But for right now, you can weigh yourself before vs. after your workday to figure out exactly how much water you lost (through sweating).

Rule of thumb: you need to drink 20 oz. (about 1.5 water bottles) of water per pound of body weight lost through sweating.

  • Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol dehydrates you and impacts your body’s ability to properly regulate body temperature.

  • Good news: if you regularly consume caffeine, it will not impact your hydration or your ability to work in the heat. So don’t worry about having your 2-3 cups of coffee or tea each day.

How can you check to make sure you’re staying hydrated?

Your urine color (in the toilet bowl) should be a lemonade color (or lighter). This is the easiest way to check that you’re hydrated.

If you’re using a porta-potty where it’s hard to see your urine color in the toilet bowl, you can count how many times each day that you have to use the restroom.

If you’re urinating at least 7 times per day, you’re hydrated. Any less than 5 times per day and you’re likely dehydrated. This would mean that you’re urinating at least once every 2 hours or so.

Glass of water

Three tricks to increase your water absorption:

  1. Lightly salting your foods (especially during the first two weeks you’re working in the heat) can help your body to absorb more water.
  2. Drinking fluids with electrolytes (especially sodium) will help to absorb the water you drink. Just watch those sugars in the drinks- you don’t need them!
  3. Your body can only absorb water at a certain speed… what that means is that you need to pace yourself in drinking the water back after working hard in the heat. You can’t just “chug” a bunch of water at the end of the work day— you will just urinate it out.

Rule of thumb: your body can absorb ~8 oz. (half of a water bottle) every 15 minutes, so try to pace your water drinking to that rate.

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REFERENCES:

  • Armstrong, Lawrence E., et al. “Urinary indices of hydration status.” International journal of sport nutrition 4.3 (1994): 265-279.
  • Kenefick, Robert W., et al. “Quantification of chromatographic effects of vitamin B supplementation in urine and implications for hydration assessment.” Journal of Applied Physiology 119.2 (2015): 110-115.
  • Burchfield, J. M., et al. “24-h Void number as an indicator of hydration status.”European journal of clinical nutrition 69.5 (2015): 638-641.
  • Tucker, M. A., et al. “Reliability of 24-h void frequency as an index of hydration status when euhydrated and hypohydrated.” European journal of clinical nutrition (2016).
  • Ely, Brett R., et al. “Hypohydration and acute thermal stress affect mood state but not cognition or dynamic postural balance.” European journal of applied physiology 113.4 (2013): 1027-1034.
  • Armstrong, Lawrence E., et al. “Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women.” The Journal of nutrition 142.2 (2012): 382-388.
  • Shirreffs, Susan Margaret, et al. “Post-exercise rehydration in man: effects of volume consumed and drink sodium content.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 28.10 (1996): 1260-1271.
  • Bain AR, Lesperance NC, Jay O. Body heat storage during physical activity is lower with hot fluid ingestion under conditions that permit full evaporation. Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2012;206(2): 98–108.