The physical demands of electrical utilities work in North America

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2016;13(1):60-70. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2015.1077966.


We assessed the physical demands associated with electrical utilities work in North America and how they influence the level of thermal and cardiovascular strain experienced. Three common job categories were monitored as they are normally performed in thirty-two electrical utility workers: (i) Ground Work (n = 11), (ii) Bucket Work (n = 9), and (iii) Manual Pole Work (n = 12). Video analysis was performed to determine the proportion of the work monitoring period (duration: 187 ± 104 min) spent at different levels of physical effort (i.e., rest as well as light, moderate and heavy effort). Core and skin temperatures as well as heart rate were measured continuously. On average, workers spent 35.9 ± 15.9, 36.8 ± 17.8, 24.7 ± 12.8, and 2.6 ± 3.3% of the work period at rest and performing work classified as light, moderate, and heavy physical effort, respectively. Moreover, a greater proportion of the work period was spent performing heavy work in Ground Work (1.6 ± 1.4%) relative to Bucket Work (0.0 ± 0.0%; P<0.01) and in Manual Pole Climbing (5.5 ± 3.6%) in comparison to both other work job (both P≤0.03). Furthermore, the proportion of time spent during work classified as heavy physical effort was positively correlated to the mean (r = 0.51, P<0.01) and peak (r = 0.42, P = 0.02) core temperatures achieved during the work period as well as the mean heart rate response (presented as a percentage of heart rate reserve; r = 0.40, P = 0.03). Finally, mean and peak core temperatures and mean heart rate responses increased from the first to the second half of the work shift; however, no differences in the proportion of the work spent at the different intensity classifications were observed. We show that Manual Pole Work is associated with greater levels of physical effort compared to Ground or Bucket Work. Moreover, we suggest that the proportion of time spent performing work classified as heavy physical exertion is related to the level of thermal and cardiovascular strain experienced and that workers may not be employing self-pacing as a strategy to manage their level of physiological strain.

Keywords: Electrical utilities; heat stress; physical work.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Temperature
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Skin Temperature
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Texas
  • West Virginia
  • Work / physiology*