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Research into Heat Stress of Mine Workers Could Benefit Construction Industry

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Menzies School of Health Research has teamed up with Charles Darwin University to measure and assess the impacts of heat stress of mine workers at the McArthur River Mine (MRM). The research is aimed to help understand effects of heat stress on the workforce and productivity at the mine site and shipping facilities in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The results of the research will be published by the end of 2018 or early 2019. The recommendations could have positive consequences for other industries, such as Construction, where workers are regularly exposed to extreme temperatures.

The results of the research will be published by the end of 2018 or early 2019. 

The McArthur River Mines(MRM) is a zinc-lead mine in the Gulf of Carpentaria, where temperatures sit in the mid to high 30s year round. This makes for some uncomfortable working conditions, especially since many jobs at the mine involve working outside in the heat. While MRM has active strategies in place to manage heat stress, the research aims to identify other techniques to improve the working environment.

Jobsite spoke with Research Project Manager and Epidemiologist Emma Field to understand the scope of the research and expected outcomes.

“We are taking a multi-disciplinary approach to the research,” explains Emma. “Our team comes from a variety of backgrounds including a thermal physiologist, a human geographer and, of course, an epidemiologist.

“The thermal physiologist will investigate and measure the physical impacts of heat on the human body, while the human geographer investigates the social practices being undertaken by workers. As the epidemiologist, my role is to measure the data collected.”

Unlike what you may thing, an epidemiologist doesn’t study diseases. 

Unlike what you may thing, an epidemiologist doesn’t study diseases. They studies the distribution and determinants of all health-related states or events (including disease), and apply the knowledge to the control of diseases and other health problems.

The study at the mine will take many approaches. “We have just completed an online survey of the workers, where we investigated self-reporting systems, strategies used and the impacts of heat on workers after their shift finished,” says Emma.

“We have also recently gone to the mine site and monitored a small group of workers. We measured their core temperature, using a pill-sized device they swallow, and which passes through their system.

“Throughout the day, we measured their core temperature by holding a device to their bodies to track it. We also monitored their heart rate and bodyweight before and after their shift, including how often they urinated throughout the day, which can be a key indicator of heat stress,” she continues.

The human geographer will investigate workers’ social knowledge and practises in dealing with heat stress. 

The human geographer will investigate workers’ social knowledge and practises in dealing with heat stress as well as what resources are available to workers. “Some workers may have access to air-conditioning while others may have much more limited access,” says Emma. “The human geographer will investigate the work environment and employees understanding or use of resources available to them.’

The research project will be completed by the end of 2018 with the initial report to the founder, MRM, expected to be delivered by mid-year. Research publications for external audiences will be available by the end of this year or early next.

“Once we publish our research paper, the findings and core recommendations will be available to the The findings will be relevant to the building and construction industries or other industries where employees are exposed to extremes in heat.”

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