The recommended Threshold Limit Values for heat exposure fail to maintain body core temperature within safe limits in older working adults

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2017 Sep;14(9):703-711. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2017.1321844.


Purpose: The American Conference of Governmental and Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH®) Threshold Limit Values (TLV® guidelines) for work in the heat consist of work-rest (WR) allocations designed to ensure a stable core temperature that does not exceed 38°C. However, the TLV® guidelines have not been validated in older workers. This is an important shortcoming given that adults as young as 40 years demonstrate impairments in their ability to dissipate heat. We therefore evaluated body temperature responses in older adults during work performed in accordance to the TLV® recommended guidelines.

Methods: On three occasions, 9 healthy older (58 ± 5 years) males performed a 120-min work-simulated protocol in accordance with the TLV® guidelines for moderate-to-heavy intensity work (360 W fixed rate of heat production) in different wet-bulb globe temperatures (WBGT). The first was 120 min of continuous (CON) cycling at 28.0°C WBGT (CON[28°C]). The other two protocols were 15-min intermittent work bouts performed with different WR cycles and WBGT: (i) WR of 3:1 at 29.0°C (WR3:1[29°C]) and (ii) WR of 1:1 at 30.0°C (WR1:1[30°C]). Rectal temperature was measured continuously. The rate of change in mean body temperature was determined via thermometry (weighting coefficients: rectal, 0.9; mean skin temperature, 0.1) and direct calorimetry.

Results: Rectal temperature exceeded 38°C in all participants in CON[28°C] and WR3:1[29°C] whereas a statistically similar proportion of workers exceeded 38°C in WR1:1[30°C] (χ2; P = 0.32). The average time for rectal temperature to reach 38°C was: CON[28°C], 53 ± 7; WR3:1[29°C], 79 ± 11; and WR1:1[30°C], 100 ± 29 min. Finally, while a stable mean body temperature was not achieved in any work condition as measured by thermometry (i.e., >0°C·min-1; all P<0.01), heat balance as determined by direct calorimetry was achieved in WR3:1[29°C] and WR1:1[30°C] (both P ≥ 0.08).

Conclusion: Our findings indicate that the TLV® guidelines do not prevent body core temperature from exceeding 38°C in older workers. Furthermore, a stable core temperature was not achieved within safe limits (i.e., ≤38°C) indicating that the TLV® guidelines may not adequately protect all individuals during work in hot conditions.

Keywords: Calorimetry; climate change; exposure guidelines; older adults; thermometry; thermoregulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Calorimetry
  • Heat Stress Disorders / prevention & control
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Physical Exertion / physiology
  • Skin Temperature / physiology
  • Threshold Limit Values*
  • Work / physiology*