Thermal stress in north Western Australian iron ore mining staff.

  • TITLE: Thermal stress in north Western Australian iron ore mining staff.
  • AUTHOR: Peiffer JJ, Abbiss CR.
  • REFERENCE: Ann Occup Hyg. 2013 May;57(4):519-27. [Epub ahead of print]
  • YEAR: 2013

INTRODUCTION: Demand for Australian mined iron ore has increased employment within this sector, thus exposing increased numbers of workers to the harsh Australian climate. This study examined the influence of hot (>30°C wet bulb globe temperature) environmental temperatures, consistent with working in North Western Australia, on iron ore mining staff. METHODS: Core temperature, hydration status, perceived exertion, mood, and fatigue state were measured in 77 participants at three time points (pre-, mid-, and post-shift) during a normal 12-h shift at an open-cut iron ore mining/processing site (n = 31; Site1) and an iron ore processing/shipping site (n = 46; Site2). RESULTS: A significant effect for time was observed for core temperature with greater mean core temperatures measured mid-shift (37.5±0.4°C) and post-shift (37.6±0.3°C) compared with pre-shift values (37.0±0.5°C). All mean core temperature measures were lower than ISO7933 thresholds (38°C) for thermal safety. Mean hydration measures [urine-specific gravity (USG)] were greater at Site1 (1.029±0.006) compared with those at Site2 (1.021±0.007). Furthermore, both pre- and post-shift measures from Site1 and the post-shift measures from Site2 were greater than the threshold for dehydration (USG = 1.020). No differences were observed for mood or perceived exertion over time; however, measures of fatigue state were greater post-shift compared with pre- and mid-shift values for both sites. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings indicate that the majority of mine workers in North Western Australia are able to regulate work rate in hot environments to maintain  core temperatures below ISO safety guidelines; however, 22% of workers reached or exceeded the safety guidelines, warranting further investigation. Furthermore, hydration practices, especially when off-work, appear inadequate and could endanger health and safety.