Prolonged or intense exposure to heat can lead to a range of health effects. This study investigated heat exposure and heat-related symptoms which sugarcane workers (90 sugarcane cutters and 93 factory workers) experienced during a harvesting season in Thailand. During the hottest month of harvesting season, wet bulb globe temperature was collected in the work environment, and workloads observed, to assess heat stress. Urine samples for dehydration test, blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature were measured pre- and post-shift to measure heat strain. Fluid intake and heat-related symptoms which subjects had experienced during the harvesting season were gathered via interviews at the end of the season. From the results, sugarcane cutters showed high risk for heat stress and strain, unlike factory workers who had low risk based on the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygiene (ACGIH) threshold limit values (TLVs) for heat stress. Dehydration was observed among sugarcane cutters and significant physiological changes including heart rate, body temperature, and systolic blood pressure occurred across the work shift. Significantly more sugarcane cutters reported experiencing heat-related symptoms including weakness/fatigue, heavy sweating, headache, rash, muscle cramp, dry mouth, dizziness, fever, dry/cracking skin, and swelling, compared to sugarcane factory workers. We conclude that the heat stress experienced by sugarcane cutters working in extremely hot environments, with high workloads, is associated with acute health effects. Preventive and control measures for heat stress are needed to reduce the risk of heat strain.
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