Quantifying the impact of heat on human physical work capacity; part III: the impact of solar radiation varies with air temperature, humidity, and clothing coverage

Int J Biometeorol. 2022 Jan;66(1):175-188. doi: 10.1007/s00484-021-02205-x. Epub 2021 Oct 28.


Heat stress decreases human physical work capacity (PWC), but the extent to which solar radiation (SOLAR) compounds this response is not well understood. This study empirically quantified how SOLAR impacts PWC in the heat, considering wide, but controlled, variations in air temperature, humidity, and clothing coverage. We also provide correction equations so PWC can be quantified outdoors using heat stress indices that do not ordinarily account for SOLAR (including the Heat Stress Index, Humidex, and Wet-Bulb Temperature). Fourteen young adult males (7 donning a work coverall, 7 with shorts and trainers) walked for 1 h at a fixed heart rate of 130 beats∙min-1, in seven combinations of air temperature (25 to 45°C) and relative humidity (20 or 80%), with and without SOLAR (800 W/m2 from solar lamps). Cumulative energy expenditure in the heat, relative to the work achieved in a cool reference condition, was used to determine PWC%. Skin temperature was the primary determinant of PWC in the heat. In dry climates with exposed skin (0.3 Clo), SOLAR caused PWC to decrease exponentially with rising air temperature, whereas work coveralls (0.9 Clo) negated this effect. In humid conditions, the SOLAR-induced reduction in PWC was consistent and linear across all levels of air temperature and clothing conditions. Wet-Bulb Globe Temperature and the Universal Thermal Climate Index represented SOLAR correctly and did not require a correction factor. For the Heat Stress Index, Humidex, and Wet-Bulb Temperature, correction factors are provided enabling forecasting of heat effects on work productivity.

Keywords: Heat stress; Labor capacity; Performance; Sunlight; UTCI; WBGT.

MeSH terms

  • Clothing
  • Heat Stress Disorders*
  • Hot Temperature
  • Humans
  • Humidity
  • Male
  • Skin Temperature
  • Temperature
  • Young Adult