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News Sept. 12, 2023

Occupational cooling technologies aim to beat the heat

As extreme heat poses a threat for outdoor workers, employers are trying products that tout cooling technology, according to The Washington Post.

Experts say the fundamental elements of heat safety—water, rest, shade—are effective but may not be sufficient protection for workers anymore.

“We need a more robust kind of system in place for workers to be able to protect themselves,” said Roxana Chicas, a nurse and scientist at Emory University. “I think that includes cooling devices, personal protective equipment.”

Options employers are turning to include vests packed with ice and pressed against the skin; vests soaked in water to evaporate on the body; and stickers that measure sweat content and core temperature. Such products reportedly are designed to work by keeping the body cool enough that natural heat reactions do not kick in or start at a higher temperature.

However, occupational cooling technology reportedly is a largely unproven field, with a small body of academic research regarding certain devices in workplace settings. Much of the research conducted has used athletes or military members, who experts say are not reliable stand-ins for a civilian workforce.

Some companies focus on longer rest periods in completely shaded or air-conditioned areas with water available, as well as reducing overtime.

Across the U.S., researchers at universities are developing technologies to battle the heat, including a cooling wrap that reportedly reduces skin temperature by 50 F in dry conditions and a battery-powered fabric patch designed to conduct heat away from the wearer. Although there are technologies that show promise, experts say many emerging heat devices have not yet faced sufficient scientific or job-site scrutiny.


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