Quantifying the impact of heat on human physical work capacity; part II: the observed interaction of air velocity with temperature, humidity, sweat rate, and clothing is not captured by most heat stress indices

Int J Biometeorol. 2022 Mar;66(3):507-520. doi: 10.1007/s00484-021-02212-y. Epub 2021 Nov 6.


Increasing air movement can alleviate or exacerbate occupational heat strain, but the impact is not well defined across a wide range of hot environments, with different clothing levels. Therefore, we combined a large empirical study with a physical model of human heat transfer to determine the climates where increased air movement (with electric fans) provides effective body cooling. The model allowed us to generate practical advice using a high-resolution matrix of temperature and humidity. The empirical study involved a total of 300 1-h work trials in a variety of environments (35, 40, 45, and 50 °C, with 20 up to 80% relative humidity) with and without simulated wind (3.5 vs 0.2 m∙s-1), and wearing either minimal clothing or a full body work coverall. Our data provides compelling evidence that the impact of fans is strongly determined by air temperature and humidity. When air temperature is ≥ 35 °C, fans are ineffective and potentially harmful when relative humidity is below 50%. Our simulated data also show the climates where high wind/fans are beneficial or harmful, considering heat acclimation, age, and wind speed. Using unified weather indices, the impact of air movement is well captured by the universal thermal climate index, but not by wet-bulb globe temperature and aspirated wet-bulb temperature. Overall, the data from this study can inform new guidance for major public and occupational health agencies, potentially maintaining health and productivity in a warming climate.

Keywords: Convection; Fans; Heat; Productivity; Sweating; Wind.

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature Regulation
  • Clothing
  • Heat-Shock Response
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Humans
  • Humidity
  • Protective Clothing
  • Sweat*
  • Temperature