The thermal environment is one of the traditional topic areas studied by occupational hygienists. There are two issues:
- thermal stress and strain
- thermal comfort
Excessive thermal stress means that the body has to work hard to avoid he core temperature moving outside narrow limits (37 + 2 C). If that happens we’re in a serious situation that leads to serious health effects and may be fatal. Our efforts to prevent this happening can also lead to adverse effects. This is most likely to occur in extreme environments or, sometimes, in more moderate environments where particularly heavy work is being performed or clothing is worn which prevent metabolic heat escaping.
Thermal comfort is most likely to be an issue in workplaces such as offices, but complaints or concerns can sometimes occur in manufacturing environments and other types of workplace. In this case the body is not experiencing a level of stress that it can’t cope with. There isn’t a physiological problem and ill health will not occur due to excessive thermal strain. But that encompasses a wide range of conditions. Will all of them be “comfortable”? Experience clearly shows that the answer to that is “no” !
Most occupational hygienists don’t work in industries work in high or low temperatures and so usually don’t have to deal with problems due to workers experiencing excessive heat or cold stress. However most of us, at some time or other, will be faced with a situation where workers are complaining that an environment is uncomfortable.
The BOHS is holding a Regional Meeting at Ellesmere Port tomorrow on the thermal environment. I’ll be giving a presentation on how to evaluate thermal comfort. These are the slides I’ll be using.
A version with some explanatory notes is also available here on Slideshare