90% of workers in Tamil Nadu’s salt pans working above recommended heat exposure: Study
The study found that every participant working in the salt pans had either a heavy or moderate workload, and an alarmingly close to 90 per cent of workers were found to be working above the recommended limits of heat exposure.
गाँव कनेक्शन 19 Aug 2023 2:09 PM GMT
A new study has found that rising heat stress as global temperatures continue to soar due to climate change, poses alarming occupational health risk to the outdoor workers.
Dedicating a significant part of the study to the assessment of the effects of heat stress on the urinary system, it underlined that although kidney function in agricultural workers is increasingly researched, nonagricultural studies are scarce.
“Workplace interventions to prevent heat stress and dehydration in the salt pans and other at risk industries are urgently required. The findings strengthen the notion that high-heat stress and limited hydration is a risk factor for kidney dysfunction,” the study titled Occupational Heat Stress and Kidney Health in Salt Pan Workers, which was published on April 20, 2023, mentioned.
The research study led by Vidhya Venugopal of Sri Ramchandra Institute of Higher Education and Research was conducted on seven salt pans in Tamil Nadu that were surveyed from 2017 to 2020.
The workload for different job roles and classified heat stress levels were evaluated. Key indicators such as pre-and post-shift heart rates, core body temperatures, urine characteristics, sweat rates, and kidney function parameters were measured.
The study found that every participant had either a heavy or moderate workload, and an alarmingly close to 90 per cent of workers were found to be working above the recommended limits of heat exposure.
The wet-bulb globe temperature (WBGT), a composite measure of environmental factors affecting human thermal comfort, consistently surpassed safe levels in the saltpans, particularly during the summer months.
Also Read: Rising heatwaves take a toll on women farm labourers; their health and wages are dropping. A ground report
“The workers reported symptoms of heat strain, dehydration, and urinary tract infection symptoms, likely due to excessive sweating, lack of toilet access and limited water consumption during their shifts,” the study revealed.
Of particular concern is the impact of heat stress on kidney health, the study said, revealing a prevalence of low estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), a marker of kidney function, in 7 per cent of workers. It linked the heat stress to various kidney-related issues, including acute kidney injury, kidney stones, chronic kidney disease, and urinary tract infections.
"We have compelling evidence that heat stress poses significant health risks for these workers. Urgent action is needed to implement adaptation strategies and improve healthcare, sanitation access and welfare facilities to protect the vulnerable individuals. Failure to address this issue will result in increased heat-related illnesses, particularly chronic kidney diseases, worsened by pre-existing medical conditions, and potentially devastating health consequences for workers around the world,” Venugopal, the lead researcher was quoted in the press statement.
The study underscores the fact that these workers experience prolonged exposure to high temperatures without sufficient access to adaptation strategies such as shade, rehydration, and rest breaks. Furthermore, it found that many are hesitant to report symptoms of heat stress due to fear of job loss or retaliation, further magnifying the impact for undocumented workers who lack access to healthcare.
The study noted that approximately 40 per cent of the global population is exposed to consistently high ambient temperatures above 30 degree Celsius throughout the year and India, in particular, faces significant risks, with the mean temperature having risen by 0.7 degree Celsius between 1901 and 2018.
The study highlights the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address heat-related risks for vulnerable workers.
“Employers must ensure access to shade, water, and rest breaks, as well as provide training on recognising and reporting heat stress symptoms. Healthcare workers must be trained to recognise the HRI symptoms and healthcare providers should be aware of the increased risk of heat-related kidney injury and educate workers on the importance of staying hydrated and avoiding prolonged exposure to high temperatures,” it added.
Pointing at the crucial role of the government agencies in mitigating these risks, the research suggests that guidelines and recommendations, such as those developed by India's National Disaster Management Authority and National Action Plan on Climate Change, need to be effectively implemented.
“Enforcing labour laws that protect workers' rights, promoting public awareness, and enhancing public health infrastructure are key steps towards minimising the impact of heat stress on vulnerable populations,” it noted.
“As temperatures continue to rise, the well-being and safety of workers in a warming world must be prioritised. Adapting to the risks posed by heat stress demands collaborative efforts from employers, policymakers, and public health officials. Only through concerted action can we safeguard the health and livelihoods of those on the frontlines of heat-exposed labour,” Vivekanand Jha, Executive Director, The George Institute for Global Health India was quoted in the press statement.