Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 2023;49(1):43-52    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.4057 | Published online: 09 Oct 2022, Issue date: 01 Jan 2023

Targeting workload to ameliorate risk of heat stress in industrial sugarcane workers

by Lucas RAI, Skinner BD, Arias-Monge E, Jakobsson K, Wesseling C, Weiss I, Poveda S, Cerda-Granados FI, Glaser J, Hansson E, Wegman DH

Objective The aim of this study was to quantify the physiological workload of manual laborers in industrial sugarcane and assess the effect of receiving a rest, shade, and hydration intervention to reduce heat stress exposure risk.

Methods In an observational study, physiological workload was evaluated for burned cane cutters (BCC), seed cutters (SC) and drip irrigation repair workers (DIRW) using heart rate (HR) recorded continuously (Polar®) across a work shift. Workers’ percentage of maximal HR (%HRmax), time spent in different HR zones, and estimated core temperature (ECTemp) were calculated. The effect of increasing rest across two harvests was evaluated for BCC and SC.

Results A total of 162 workers participated in this study [52 BCC (all male), 71 SC (13 female) and 39 DIRW (16 female)]. Average %HRmax across a work shift was similar between BCC and SC (BCC: 58%, SC: 59%), but lower in DIRW (51%). BCC and SC spent similar proportions of work shifts at hard/very hard intensities (BCC: 13%, SC: 15%), versus DIRW who worked mostly at light (46%) or light-moderate (39%) intensities. SC maximum ECTemp reached 38.2°C, BCC 38.1°C; while DIRW only reached 37.7°C. Females performed at a higher %HRmax than males across work shifts (SC 64% versus 58%; DIRW 55% versus 49%). An additional rest period was associated with a lower average %HRmax across a work shift in BCC.

Conclusion In this setting, BCC and SC both undertake very physiologically demanding work. Females maintained a higher workload than male co-workers. Regulated rest periods each hour, with water and shade access, appears to reduce physiological workload/strain.

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