Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Public Health

Major Professor

Candi D. Ashley, Ph.D.


Heat stress, Heat strain, Heat balance, Gender, Physiological responses to heat, Occupational heat exposure


Heat stress is influenced by environmental conditions, workload and clothing. A critical environment is the upper limit of compensable heat stress for a given metabolic rate and clothing ensemble. The physiological strains associated with heat stress are core and skin temperatures, heart rate and physiological strain index (PSI). Because heat dissipation mechanisms may differ between men and women, there may be gender differences in the critical environment and the associated physiological variables. Gender differences were explored between acclimated men (n = 20) and women (n = 9) at the upper limit of compensable heat stress. Participants walked on a motorized treadmill at a target metabolic rate of 160W/m2 while wearing five different clothing ensembles (cotton work clothes, cotton coveralls, and three coveralls of particle barrier, liquid barrier, and vapor barrier properties). The starting air temperature (Tdb) was 34°C and humidity was held constant at 50%.

Once thermal equilibrium was achieved, Tdb was increased 1°C every five minutes until loss of thermal equilibrium or termination criteria were met. Upon initial analysis, several gender differences were found. A significant difference (p = 0.035) was found for WBGTcrit, where values were 32.5°C for men and 33.1°C for women. Women had higher average heart rates (hr = 125 and 112 bpm), average skin temperatures (Tsk =36.4 and 36.2°C), and psi values (4.5 and 3.8) than men. No significant difference was found between genders for core temperature (tre) (p = 0.147). The target metabolic rate of 160W/m2 was not achieved and there were significant differences (p <0.0001) between men (172 W/m2) and women (152 W/m2). The effects of metabolic rate on WBGTcrit was examined and it was discovered that the difference in WGBTcrit could be explained by the difference in metabolic rate. The same logic was applied to the physiological responses and confirmed a difference between genders for Tre, HR, and PSI.

The differences for Tsk disappeared. These findings indicate that women experienced a greater cardiovascular strain at the critical conditon and also greater heat strain than men at the same heat load.