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Safeguarding Workers in a Warming World: Heat Challenges and Solutions

Contributor: Epicore Biosystems

This summer, it has been difficult to begin each day without being confronted by news of record-breaking heatwaves or workers suffering from heat-related injuries when turning on your preferred morning news show or browsing a news website.

Despite the current reports of the summer of 2023 being the hottest on record, scientists are cautioning that it might actually be the least extreme among the foreseeable summers. Disturbingly, projections suggest that by 2050, there will be over 50 additional scorching days (exceeding 90°F). According to OSHA’s findings in 2021, this anticipated increase in heat will result in an alarming 450,000 more occupational injuries and a sevenfold rise in heat-related deaths. These figures are staggering, especially in light of organizations like Public Citizen (2022) suggesting that heat-related injuries and fatalities are already underreported by factors as high as 50x and 40x, respectively.

From an economic perspective, heat exerts a substantial influence. As reported by the Atlantic Council (2021), for each 1°C rise in temperature, there is a 3% reduction in efficiency. This, in turn, is anticipated to result in a staggering $500 billion in labor productivity losses. Furthermore, the RAND Corporation conducted a comprehensive study on Heat Illness prevention in California and estimated that the economic value associated with preventing each injury or illness amounts to $770,000 in 2023. These figures underscore the significant financial implications of heat-related issues.

Our bodies, however, are tropical at the base, and we have developed natural biological and physiological responses (strain) to the heat stress challenge of dissipating heat to our outside environment. These are a cardiovascular response of increasing the amount of blood flow to the skin and, most importantly, by initiating evaporative cooling, i.e., sweating.

Of course, our bodies are also amazing “machines” and over time adapt to the extra challenges we provide. In the case of heat acclimation, they become increasingly proficient at dissipating heat, characterized by an earlier onset of sweating and enhanced water and salt regulation. This adaptation includes the retention of more electrolytes, as the sweat becomes more diluted and approaches the consistency of water.

All of this adds lots of variability for each person on any given day. Your natural heat tolerance, your natural level of heat stress response with how your body is reallocating blood, your current level of heat acclimation, your level of hydration, fitness, body mass, dietary habits, alcohol consumption, workload strain, PPE, and of course the day’s temperature and humidity.

It’s no wonder we see such inter- and intra- variability from individual to individual. research findings have indicated disparities of up to tenfold in sweat losses among industrial workers during similar work sessions, even when exposed to comparable environmental conditions, wearing similar protective gear, engaging in similar activities, and working at similar intensity levels.

Now, if your role is to protect the heat-exposed workers at your company and you are in the process of constructing a heat stress program aimed at safeguarding your most vulnerable workers, how can you discern, on any given day, who within your workforce is the most susceptible and thus in need of the program’s protection? Additionally, what precise levels of protection do they require, and when should these protective measures be implemented?

The good news is there have been technological advancements to assist and empower each worker with essential health information to ensure their safety. These technologies encompass heart rate monitors (measuring cardio strain), core temperature monitors (serving as “backstops” for timely intervention with mitigation measures), and the latest addition of personal hydration smart wearables. These wearables act as preventive tools, allowing individuals to track their hydration levels (including water and salt loss) and make necessary replenishments.

Science tells us, that proper hydration (water and sodium) is essential to letting your body maximize its level of tolerance from the heat.

At Epicore Biosystems, Cambridge, MA, we are a digital health company developing advanced sweat-sensing wearables and cloud analytics that provide real-time, personalized health insights for hydration, stress, and wellness.

Our Connected Hydration system is a microfluidic-based sweat patch with a Bluetooth module designed as the first smart wearable to continuously measure sweat fluid and electrolyte losses while monitoring skin temperature and movement.

Connected Hydration is the first-ever personalized hydration management solution that:

  • Tracks sweat/electrolyte loss and intake
  • Alerts users at risk of dehydration
  • Measures skin and under-PPE temp
  • Measures activity level

The system comprises a reusable Bluetooth module, single-use microfluidic patches, a smartphone App, and Enterprise software for group/anonymous user data analysis and predictive analytics.

Features include:

  • Sweat fluid & electrolyte loss, skin temp, and motion tracking
  • Rehydration feedback in real-time
  • Vibration lost fluid alerts and dehydration alarms
  • 1000 hours of battery life
  • Class 1, Division 2, Groups A, B, C and D, T6

Now with Connected Hydration, your heat stress program can continuously focus daily on who is today’s most vulnerable.

To learn more on how Epicore can help you scientifically evolve your heat stress programs please stop by the Epicore Biosystems booth, #808, at VPPPA’s 2023 Safety+ Symposium or contact sales@epicorebiosystems.com to schedule an introduction meeting.

About Epicore Biosystems

Epicore Biosystems has developed ‘skin-like’ wearable microfluidic solutions that are capable of non-invasively measuring sweat biomarkers, skin health, and physiology, in real-time. Founded in 2017 as a spinout company from Northwestern University’s Querrey Simpson Institute for Bioelectronics and John Rogers Laboratory, Epicore has partnered with multiple Fortune 500 companies, the Department of Defense, and leading research hospitals to drive personalized hydration and skin care management with wearable microfluidic products. For more information, visit the Epicore website.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Annis is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Partnerships and Recognition, Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs in OSHA’s National Office.  Jackie’s primary responsibilities include developing and overseeing internal policies and procedures for the VPP, reviewing VPP on-site evaluation reports for process safety management information, serving as the National Office liaison for two of OSHA’s ten Regions, and facilitating the management of OSHA’s National Strategic Partnership Program.  She is an integral part of OSHA’s National Office team. 

She has served with the Agency for 36 years, including five years as a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, Directorate of Enforcement Programs in the National Office and 17 years as a compliance safety and health officer in the Denver, CO Area Office.  Prior to her tenure at OSHA, Jackie worked as an industrial hygienist for the Department of the Navy in Alameda, California.  Jackie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 1983.

Wayne Howard earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis and has spent 12 years with Shell (at Martinez) refinery, 3 years with the consulting firm Process Safety, 15 years with Valero (at Benicia), and the last 10 years in the Corporate Process Safety Department. He is the Valero representative to AFPM's Advancing Process Safety Initiative.

Nathan Obaugh, PE is a senior engineer in the Safety and Operational Excellence Group at NuStar Energy. Nathan has over 10 years of PSM and process design experience in the petrochemical, refining and midstream industries. At NuStar, Nathan oversees all elements of the corporate PSM program and works directly on hazard analysis, process safety studies, PSM/RMP audits and provides process engineering support to the operations and capital projects groups.

Jared Teter, PhD is a senior staff scientist with a background in physics and hazards analysis. He has extensive experience in subscale testing of energetic materials and has served as program manager for several large testing and risk management projects. He has applied engineering and risk management protocols while evaluating the risk associated with propellant and explosives manufacturing, combustible dust, and other hazardous material related processes.

Tim Belitz has a degree in Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene from Old Dominion University and a Master’s from Duke University. He has over 25 years of Industrial Health Safety and Environmental Experience and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has many years focused on Contractor Management and Process Safety programs.

Rob Walker graduated from Virginia Tech in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering. Rob has almost 35 years of experience working in the chemical plant and refining industry. His passion for Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity began very early in his career. Rob began with his current company, Honeywell, back in 2011.

Prasad Joshi has B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering from two universities in India. Prasad has over 30 years’ experience in the business. He began with Honeywell in May 2022 as Principal Maintenance Engineer. He has worked internationally in Asia and Europe.