Background: Occupational heat stress is a major concern in sugarcane production and has been hypothesized as a causal factor of a chronic kidney disease epidemic in Central America. This study described working conditions of sugarcane harvesters in Costa Rica and quantified their exposure to heat.
Methods: Non-participatory observation and Wet Bulb Globe Temperatures (WBGT) according to Spanish NTP (Technical Prevention Notes) guidelines were utilized to quantify the risk of heat stress. OSHA recommendations were used to identify corresponding exposure limit values.
Results: Sugarcane harvesters carried out labor-intensive work with a metabolic load of 261 W/m² (6.8 kcal/min), corresponding to a limit value of 26° WBGT which was reached by 7:30 am on most days. After 9:15 am, OSHA recommendations would require that workers only work 25% of each hour to avoid health risks from heat.
Conclusions: Sugarcane harvesters are at risk for heat stress for the majority of the work shift. Immediate action is warranted to reduce such exposures.
Keywords: Central America; agricultural worker; exposure; heat stress; sugarcane.
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