Do the Threshold Limit Values for Work in Hot Conditions Adequately Protect Workers?

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Jun;48(6):1187-96. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000886.


Purpose: We evaluated core temperature responses and the change in body heat content (ΔHb) during work performed according to the ACGIH threshold limit values (TLV) for heat stress, which are designed to ensure a stable core temperature that does not exceed 38.0°C.

Methods: Nine young males performed a 120-min work protocol consisting of cycling at a fixed rate of heat production (360 W). On the basis of the TLV, each protocol consisted of a different work-rest (WR) allocation performed in different wet-bulb globe temperatures (WBGT). The first was 120 min of continuous (CON) cycling at 28.0°C WBGT (CON[28.0°C]). The remaining three protocols were intermittent work bouts (15-min duration) performed at various WR and WBGT: (i) WR of 3:1 at 29.0°C (WR3:1[29.0°C]), (ii) WR of 1:1 at 30.0°C (WR1:1[30.0°C]), and (iii) WR of 1:3 at 31.5°C (WR1:3[31.5°C]) (total exercise time: 90, 60, and 30 min, respectively). The change in rectal (ΔTre) and mean body temperature (ΔTb) was evaluated with thermometry. ΔHb was determined via direct calorimetry and also used to calculate ΔTb.

Results: Although average rectal temperature did not exceed 38.0°C, heat balance was not achieved during exercise in any work protocol (i.e., rate of ΔTre > 0°C·min; all P values ≤ 0.02). Consequently, it was projected that if work was extended to 4 h, the distribution of participant core temperatures higher and lower than 38.0°C would be statistically similar (all P values ≥ 0.10). Furthermore, ΔHb was similar between protocols (P = 0.70). However, a greater ΔTb was observed with calorimetry relative to thermometry in WR3:1[29.0°C] (P = 0.03), WR1:1[30.0°C] (P = 0.02), and WR1:3[31.5°C] (P < 0.01) but not CON[28.0°C] (P = 0.32).

Conclusion: The current study demonstrated that heat balance was not achieved and ΔTb and ΔHb were inconsistent, suggesting that the TLV may not adequately protect workers during work in hot conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Calorimetry
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Heat Stress Disorders / physiopathology
  • Heat Stress Disorders / prevention & control
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / physiopathology
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control
  • Perception
  • Physical Exertion
  • Thermometry
  • Threshold Limit Values*
  • Work / physiology*
  • Young Adult