Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Public Health

Major Professor

Thomas E. Bernard


Heat Index, heat stress, National Weather Service, occupational exposure limit, WBGT


Heat stress occurs when the body cannot adequately cool itself due to the combined contributions of metabolic heat, environmental factors and clothing. Heat stress found in the workplace puts employees at risk of developing heat-related illnesses, disorders and could be fatal. The wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) index is the current method used to assess environmental contributions to heat stress in an occupational setting. The purpose of this thesis was to explore whether the National Weather Service's Heat Index (HI) could substitute for the WBGT Index during occupational heat stress exposure assessment. The possibility of using the HI for heat stress exposure assessments was explored by first developing an occupational exposure limit based on the HI and then by comparing the HI to WBGT Index over a range of environments.

Data from 10 selected studies were reviewed and categorized into two groups (Classic Data and Progressive Data) based on the method used to determine the upper limit of the prescriptive zone. WBGT and HI values were estimated from the environmental data provided in the 10 studies and the metabolic demands were also noted. These data were used to illustrate the relationship between environment (WBGT and HI) and metabolic rate. Next the relationship between HI and WBGT was compared over a range of environments consisting of combinations of air temperature and percent relative humidity as defined by the NWS's Heat Index Chart. Finally the effects of adding a high radiant heat load (Tg = Tdb+10 °C) to the relationship between WBGT and HI was explored.

The HI occupational exposure limits were protective of the upper limit threshold points in a manner similar to WBGT. A greater spread in the Classic and Progressive upper limit data was observed above the occupational exposure limit when expressed as HI. High correlation was observed (R2 = 0.95) between the WBGT Index and HI over a range of environments, assuming no radiant heat. The incremental increase in HI due to high radiant heat indicated a strong dependency on the absolute value of HI, which makes using HI to predict WBGT in radiant heat environments problematic.

Findings suggest the Heat Index could be used to assess heat stress exposures and to set occupational exposure limits for hot environments in the absence of high radiant heat.