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Appl Occup Environ Hyg. 2002 Mar;17(3):176-86.

Limiting metabolic rate (thermal work limit) as an index of thermal stress.

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  • 1School of Public Health, Curtin University, Perth, Australia.


The development of a rational heat stress index called thermal work limit (TWL) is presented. TWL is defined as the limiting (or maximum) sustainable metabolic rate that euhydrated, acclimatized individuals can maintain in a specific thermal environment, within a safe deep body core temperature (< 38.20 degrees C) and sweat rate (< 1.2 kg/hr(-1)). The index has been developed using published experimental studies of human heat transfer, and established heat and moisture transfer equations through clothing. Clothing parameters can be varied and the protocol can be extended to unacclimatized workers. The index is designed specifically for self-paced workers and does not rely on estimation of actual metabolic rates, a process that is difficult and subject to considerable error. The index has been introduced into several large industrial operations located well inside the tropics, resulting in a substantial and sustained fall in the incidence of heat illness. Guidelines for TWL are proposed along with recommended interventions. TWL has application to professionals from both the human and engineering sciences, as it allows not only thermal strain to be evaluated,. but also the productivity decrement due to heat (seen as a reduced sustainable metabolic rate) and the impact of various strategies such as improved local ventilation or refrigeration to be quantitatively assessed.

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