Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Public Health

Major Professor

Aurora Sanchez-Anguiano, M.D., Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Thomas E. Bernard, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Yougui Wu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

René Salazar, Ph.D.


exertional heat illness, acute injuries, cumulative effect, WBGT, OEL, heat strain


Heat stress is a recognized occupational hazard present in many work environments. Its effects increase with increasing environmental heat loads. There is good evidence that exertional heat illness is associated with ambient thermal conditions in outdoor environments. Further, there is reason to believe that risk of acute injury may also increase with the ambient environment. For these reasons, the assessment of heat stress, which can be done through the characterization of the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT), is designed to limit exposures to those that could be sustained for an 8-h day. The ACGIH Threshold Limit Value (TLV) for heat stress was based on limited data from Lind in the 1960s. Because there are practical limitations of using thermal indices, measurement of physiological parameters, such as body temperature and heart rate are used with environmental indices or as their alternative.

The illness and injury records from the Deepwater Horizon cleanup effort provided an opportunity to examine the effects of ambient thermal conditions on exertional heat illness and acute injury, and also the cumulative effect of the previous day’s environmental conditions. The ability of the current WBGT-based occupational exposure limits to discriminate unsustainable heat exposures, and the proposal of alternative occupational limits was performed on data from two progressive heat stress protocol trials performed at USF. The USF studies also provided the opportunity to explore physiological strain indicators (rectal temperature, heart rate, skin temperature and the Physiological Strain Index) to determine the threshold between unsustainable and sustainable heat exposures. Analysis were performed using Poisson models, conditional logistic regressions, logistic regressions, and receiver operator curves (ROC curves).

It was found that the odds to present an acute event, either exertional heat illness or acute injuries increased significantly with rising environmental conditions above 20 °C (RR 1.40 and RR 1.06, respectively). There was evidence of the cumulative effect from the prior day’s temperature and increased risk of exertional heat illness (RRs from 1.0–10.4). Regarding the accuracy of the current TLV, the results of the present investigation showed that this occupational exposure limit is extremely sensitive to predict cases associated with unsustainable heat exposures, its area under the curve (AUC) was 0.85; however its specificity was very low (specificity=0.05), with a huge percentage of false positives (95%). The suggested alternative models improved the specificity of the occupational exposure limits (specificities from 0.36 to 0.50), maintaining large AUCs (between 0.84 and 0.89). Nevertheless, any decision in trading sensitivity for specificity must be taken with extreme caution because of the steeped increment risk of heat related illness associated with small increments in environmental heat found also in the present study. Physiologic heat strain indices were found as accurate predictors for unsustainable heat stress exposures (AUCs from 0.74 to 0.89), especially when measurements of heart rate and skin temperature are combined (AUC=0.89 with a specificity of 0.56 at a sensitivity=0.95). Their implementation in industrial settings seems to be practical to prevent unsustainable heat stress conditions.