Solutions to Occupational Heat Stress Problems
Encountered by Environmental Workers

Kris Bancroft

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I have recently received a flurry of questions relating to occupational heat stress problems encountered by environmental workers. The problems seem to center around the issues involving those workers donned in Class-A PPE. However, in many environments-and especially hot work environments-almost any equipment that restricts the natural cooling processes of the human body can push a healthy worker over the edge and into the abyss of a sentinel heat stress event. In hopes of offering some assistance to those who are responsible for the health and safety of environmental workers, I felt it past time to contribute from my personal experiences. I hope this will help you.

As a HAZWOPER Supervisor, I have donned the Class-A PPE, entered the hot zone, and found myself gasping for breath in a few short minutes. Certainly, my bearable time in the hot zone was not sufficient to enable me to complete a meaningful amount of work. Back in the warm zone, I slithered out of the moon suit, and literally poured sweat from my rubber boots. During the work/rest cycles, I drank copious amounts of electrolyte replacement fluids, only to find at the end of my shift I had still managed to loose as much as fifteen pounds.

One day, a safety equipment salesman came to the office with a vest that would stay cold for an hour or two, and this garment was purported to be the panacea for all workers who earn a living in hot environments. As many of you know, Class-A PPE could restrict the graceful movements of even the best-trained athletes or ballerinas. As if the absolutely and positively essential PPE weren't bad enough, the additional restrictions offered by these refrigerated or endothermic vests cause the worker to be even more susceptible to slips, trips, and falls. There's more.

I'm not a physician, but I can't help but wonder what are the physiological effects on the human body when the torso is frozen and the brain is stewing in its own juices. I would, at the least, expect to see some brain cells misfiring from what they suspect to be the input of faulty data. As for the rest of the body, I wonder what is happening to the extremities and the cardiovascular system. Perhaps some kind-hearted physician can enlighten us.

A few years ago, I watched an incredible movie on TV. "Dune." In this movie, the people exposed to extremely hot and arid temperatures wore capillary vests that picked-up, cooled, and circulated over the skin, all manner of waste bodily fluids. Now, there's an idea! (I will admit that I wondered why the capillary suits were black, since we know that white would have been the optimum color.)

Back to reality, if a worker succumbs to the heat while in Class-A PPE-and many have-they are in danger of dying from heat stroke. Furthermore, they represent a problem for other workers inside the hot zone who must come running to truck the fallen individual back to decon. I've given this problem some thought and have decided to-in the interest of preserving humanity-offer a million dollars worth of technology to whomever would wish to pursue this solution.

Since it is essential for someone on the outside to have communication with persons in the hot zone, many organizations utilize a transceiver in the form of a headset no larger or heavier than what is worn by the switchboard (and numerous of the more acrobatic rock stars.). Why not incorporate a tympanic heat monitor into the communications device? OK, so it's not "core body temperature," but it would provide an excellent indicator to the person monitoring the workers inside-and it's a sight more comfortable! Such a device would indicate when it's really time for the worker to head for the warm zone. The "warm" zone could actually be converted to a cool down area by utilization of some portable air conditioners, such as 5000 Btu window units.

By the way, this strategy would also work well for firefighters who, in their heroic efforts, are notorious for pushing the outside of the heat stress envelope.

So, there you are folks, Kris Bancroft's solution to preventing heat stress injury to persons who work in impermeable PPE, or perform other kinds of hot work. If one of you entrepreneurial types out there should cash in on my idea, I'd appreciate your buying me a new Valkyrie out of your first million.