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Your Environment. Your Health.

Heat and Impaired Kidney Function Affect Worker Productivity

Lee S. Newman, M.D.
University of Colorado

Heat extremes may be associated with loss of agricultural worker productivity and employment, especially among workers with impaired kidney function, according to an NIEHS study. The study provides the first direct field evidence linking kidney function, heat, and agricultural productivity. 

The researchers measured temperature exposure, kidney function, and productivity of 4,095 Guatemalan sugarcane cutters over a 6-month harvest. Heat stress was evaluated by measuring wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT), which accounts for temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle, and cloud cover. They also measured productivity, based on tons of cut sugarcane, and the job attrition of workers with normal or impaired kidney function.

The team estimated that the cumulative effect on productivity for workers with impaired kidney function was 1.16 tons less sugarcane cut over five days after exposure to a max WBGT of 34 degrees Celsius (93.2 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with exposure to 29 degrees Celsius (84.2 degrees Fahrenheit). Workers who started the harvest season with impaired kidney function were more than twice as likely to leave their employment.

According to the authors, agricultural workers who developed health conditions, such as kidney disease, were particularly vulnerable to increasing heat extremes. In light of the epidemic of work-related chronic illnesses related to heat, including chronic kidney disease of unknown origin, the researchers called for further research and interventions to address impaired kidney function and the resultant loss of employment and productivity.

Citation: Dally M, Butler-Dawson J, Krisher L, Monaghan A, Weitzenkamp D, Sorensen C, Johnson RJ, Carlton EJ, Asensio C, Tenney L, Newman LS. 2018. The impact of heat and impaired kidney function on productivity of Guatemalan sugarcane workers. PLoS One 13(10):e0205181.

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