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Extreme heat, cold raise workers’ injury risk: study

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Barcelona, Spain — Toiling in extreme temperatures may increase workers’ risk of injury, according to the results of a recent study from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health.

Using data collected from the Spanish Labor Administration’s Spanish National System, researchers identified nearly 16 million occupational injuries countrywide that required at least one day of leave between 1994 and 2013. Temperature data was obtained from the European Climate Assessment and Dataset. Extreme heat and cold were defined as above the 97.5th percentile and below the 2.5th percentile, respectively.

Results showed that 2.7 percent of the injuries were attributed to extreme temperatures. Extreme heat increased the risk by 9 percent and accounted for 383,629 total injuries. Meanwhile, extreme cold raised the risk by 4 percent and contributed to 50,932 injuries.

Other findings:

  • Injuries were most common among workers between the ages of 35 and 54 (42.4 percent).
  • Of those injured, 77.7 percent were men. Women had a higher risk in cold temperatures, while men’s risk was greater in the heat.
  • Bone fractures (62.9 percent) accounted for the most injuries.
  • Manufacturing (25.2) and construction (22.2) had the highest percentage of injuries.

Possible impacts of working in extreme temperatures include cumulative fatigue and dehydration, the researchers said. They suggest employers design targeted interventions and implement adaptation plans – such as limiting work in extreme heat and cold, providing rest breaks, and ensuring proper hydration – that focus on the most vulnerable workers.

The study was published online June 11 in Environmental Health Perspectives.

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