Workplace heat exposure, health protection, and economic impacts: A case study in Canada

Am J Ind Med. 2019 Dec;62(12):1024-1037. doi: 10.1002/ajim.22966. Epub 2019 Mar 25.


Background: Occupational heat exposure is a serious concern for worker health, productivity, and the economy. Few studies in North America assess how on-site wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) levels and guidelines are applied in practice.

Methods: We assessed the use of a WBGT sensor for localized summertime heat exposures experienced by outdoor laborers at an industrial worksite in Ontario, Canada during the warm season (May-October) from 2012 to 2018 inclusive. We further examined informed decision making, approximated workers' predicted heat strain (sweat loss, core temperature), and estimated potential financial loss (via hourly wages) due to decreased work allowance in the heat.

Results: Significantly higher worksite WBGT levels occured compared with regional levels estimated at the airport, with an upward trend in heat warnings over the 7 years and expansion of warnings into the fall season. The maximum WBGT during warnings related strongly to predicted hourly sweat loss. On average, 22 hours per worker were lost each summer (~1% of annual work hours) as a result of taking breaks or stopping due to heat. This amount of time corresponded to an average individual loss of C$1100 Canadian dollars (~C$220,000 combined for ~200 workers) to workers or the company. The additional losses for an enterprise due to reduced product output were not estimated.

Conclusions: Worksite observations and actions at the microscale are essential for improving the estimates of health and economic costs of extreme heat to enterprises and society. Providing worksite heat metrics to the employees aids in appropriate decision making and health protection.

Keywords: economic impact; extreme heat; health; outdoor workers; wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT).

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Efficiency, Organizational
  • Environmental Monitoring / economics
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Heat Stress Disorders / economics*
  • Heat Stress Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Heat-Shock Response
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Occupational Diseases / economics*
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control
  • Ontario
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Seasons
  • Workplace