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Incorporating occupational risk in heat stress vulnerability mapping.


Heat stress is a serious health threat during the summertime for a large portion of the U.S. population, particularly during physical exertion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 1979 to 2003 heat killed 8,015 Americans--more than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes combined (CDC, 2009). Recent government statistics on heat-related fatalities indicate, "Between 1999 and 2003, a total of 3,442 deaths resulting from exposure to extreme heat were reported (annual mean: 688) and males accounted for 66% of those deaths (CDC, 2006a)." In 2011, 206 people died as a result of extreme heat, up from 138 fatalities in 2010 (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], 2012). The 10-year average for heat-related fatalities is 119 (NOAA, 2012).

In 2012 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report on extreme events, concluding that increases in the frequency and magnitude of warm daily temperature extremes and decreases in cold extremes will occur in the 21st century at the global scale with 99%-100% probability (IPCC, 2012). The report also states that daily temperature extremes will increase this century, with 90%-100% probability that heat waves will increase in length, frequency, or intensity over most land areas. Observations since 1950 document changes in daily temperature extremes and heat waves (IPCC, 2012) and a recent analysis of extreme heat events in the U.S. between 1979 and 2011 suggests the number of heat wave days has been increasing in the southeast (Smith, Zaitchik, & Gohlke, 2012).

Anderson (2011) estimated that limiting the global mean temperature to 2[degrees]C of warming will still result in current historical temperature extremes becoming the norm for 70%-80% of the Earth's surface. Hyatt and co-authors (2010) utilized published formulas for the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) in combination with global gridded climate data and concluded that estimated future increases of WBGT may create extreme heat exposure situations in large areas of the world.

Although global and national estimates of health effects due to climate change have been summarized, further studies are required to develop a better understanding of health risks across divergent geographical locations (Zhang, Bi, & Hiller, 2007). Public health researchers and practitioners are playing a lead role in this endeavor to develop estimates of interaction between exposure and susceptibility to health effects in identifying the most appropriate adaptation measures (Luber & Hess, 2007). For example, the elderly are thought to be particularly susceptible to heat stress, and mapping of the proportion of elderly has been used in adaptation planning (Minnesota Department of Health, 2013). In contrast, occupational risk factors have received limited attention in public health adaptation planning.

Alabama's high humidity and temperature extremes can lead to heat-related illnesses (HRI) and deaths (Alabama Department of Public Health [ADPH], 2012a). A study of temperature-related deaths in Alabama by Taylor and McGwin (2000) found that mortality rates for hyperthermia were higher in Alabama than nationally. The authors stated that rates among males were higher than those of females, with the highest rates found among African-American males. The cause of the higher rates among African-American males is not known, but the finding was consistent with nationwide studies (CDC, 2000). Risk factors include low socioeconomic status, alcohol consumption, certain drugs, underlying chronic disease, previous heat stroke, and physical exertion (Taylor & McGwin, 2000).

Mortality in the state of Alabama due to excessive heat include a high of 125 in 1980 and yearly deaths since 1994 are charted in Figure 1 (ADPH, 2005, 2010, 2012b; NOAA, 2012). Most of the victims during the 1980 heat wave were elderly shut-ins who lacked air conditioning. A less intense heat wave in August 2007 resulted in 13 fatalities, while the majority of those treated at hospitals were of working age (26-50) and were working outside when they experienced heat stress (Pence & Stefkovich, 2008), suggesting the demographics of heat-related deaths may be changing.

HRI and fatalities in Alabama were recently added to the list of notifiable diseases required to be reported to the health department (ADPH, 2012a). Of the 809 HRI in 2012, 347 were reported as work related (ADPH, 2012a). Other state surveillance programs have also suggested work-related HRI contributes significantly to the overall numbers of HRI (e.g., Florida Department of Health, 2012; North Carolina Public Health, 2012). Bonauto and co-authors (2007) used both International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD)-9 and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z16.2 codes with sub sequent medical record review to identify 480 Washington State Fund workers' compensation claims for HRI over the 11-year time period of 1995-2005. North American Industry Classification System industries with the highest workers' compensation HRI average annual claims incidence rate were fire protection; roofing construction; and highway, bridge, and street construction. HRI claims were associated with high outdoor ambient temperatures, and medical risk factors for HRI were present in some cases. Risk factors for classical heat stroke include cardiovascular and respiratory disease, diabetes, obesity, and the use of medications that reduce sweating, impair thermoregulation, and weaken cardiovascular responses (Bonauto et al., 2007). The risk for developing exertional heat illness increases with body mass index (Donoghue & Bates, 2000; Gardner et al., 1996) and may be an important factor in determining occupational HRI.

This article maps occupational risks (as indicated by number of workers in high-risk occupations, based on physical exertion data) by county for the state of Alabama and identifies those counties with the highest proportion of at-risk workers per capita. This data should allow health agencies to target specific counties and industries for the dissemination of preventive care information, as well as identify likely future heat strain response priority locations.


To address occupation-specific vulnerabilities, metabolic equivalent (MET) values for Activities in American Time Use Survey (ATUS) data were obtained from the National Cancer Institute's Web site (National Cancer Institute, 2012a). These data are from a study by Tudor-Locke and coauthors (2009), who used the 2003 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ATUS, which contains "438 distinct primary activity variables that can be analyzed with regard to how time is spent by Americans." The Compendium of Physical Activities facilitates comparison of coded intensity levels across studies. Tudor-Locke and co-authors (2009) link compendium estimates of physical activity intensity (METs) with all activities reported in the 2003 ATUS. One MET is defined as "the energy to lie/sit quietly. It is equivalent to a metabolic rate of consuming 3.5 mL O2/ kg/minute." The MET values in the resulting dataset range from 0.00 to 10.00. The higher the number, the more strenuous the task. MET values in the dataset range from a low value of 0.92 (sleeping) to a high value of 10.00 (playing rugby).

Occupation-specific MET-ATUS data were downloaded from the National Cancer Institute (2012b). MET values for occupations range from a low of 1.5, e.g., chief executives, to 8.0, e.g., logging workers. Census Occupation Classification codes for 2002 in the MET-ATUS data were matched to their corresponding 2002 Standard Occupational Classification Codes (SOC) by using 2002 Current Population Survey (CPS) Occupational Codes as a data crosswalk (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).

Alabama employment data containing estimated employment for SOC codes were downloaded from the Alabama Department of Labor, summarized for 16 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) (Alabama Department of Labor, 2012a). Microsoft Access was used to join MET data for each MSA and SOC code.

Alabama HRI data were obtained from the Alabama Department of Public Health for reporting period June 29, 2012, through September 15, 2012, which included the following fields: type (HRI or heat-related death), facility county, age group (1-14, 15-24, 25-44, 45-59, or 60+), sex, contributing factor (athletic related, work related, or other), and entry timestamp. It should be noted that sex and contributing factor were not reported for five of the six heat-related death records.

The Alabama Department of Public Health has mapped this data by state public health area and also has charted cases by date and age range. In terms of time trends, reported cases in 2012 reached an early high of more than 70 cases in early July and then trended downward with additional spikes above 30 cases in mid- and late July. The largest category for age was 25-44 (37%), followed by 45-59 (23%), 15-24 (20%), 60+ (17%), and 1-14 (3%) (ADPH, 2012b).

Weighted MET rates were calculated for each MSA as follows: first, occupational MET values were multiplied by estimated employment to obtain a weighted MET value for each occupation. These weighted MET occupation values were then summed for each MSA. To obtain the population in each MSA, average employment values were summed for each county in the MSA. Employment data, "Annual 2010 Selected Data Relative to Employment, Wages, & Benefit Payments," was downloaded from the Alabama Department of Labor (2012b). Finally, the weighted MET sum for each MSA was divided by its employment population to obtain a weighted MET rate. These operations were performed for (1) all MET values, (2) the average (per MSA) for all MET values, (3) MET values <3.00, (4) MET values 3.00-5.99, (5) MET values 6.00-10.00, and (6) MET values for outdoor occupations. These breaks correspond to the MET categories of sedentary and light (<3.00), moderate (3.00-5.99), and vigorous ([greater than or equal to] 6.00) by the National Cancer Institute (2012b).

Also, county obesity prevalence and leisure-time physical inactivity prevalence data were obtained from the CDC Diabetes Interactive Atlases (CDC, 2004, 2010). These values were summed for each MSA.

Finally, the ADPH-reported HRI incidents for each MSA were summed and divided by each MSA's population to obtain HRI rates per MSA. These rates were calculated for all reported HRIs as well as just those HRIs for which the contributing factor was work related. Once all data were formatted as rates per MSA, Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients and p-values were calculated between HRI (work-related HRI) and occupational MET categories and obesity in MATLAB R2013b using the corr function.


Table 1 summarizes the 2012 HRI data analyzed. First, a possible connection between occupation, exertion, and HRI was investigated. Table 2 is a small subset of activity codes and their associated MET values, which were obtained after mapping METATUS data CPS codes to their corresponding 2002 SOC codes.

Pearson correlation coefficients and p-values for work-related HRI with the estimated employment rates in various MET categories and obesity are reported in Table 3. Proportion of employees in the MET 3-5.99 category were marginally positively correlated to work-related HRI (p = .08). This MET category includes occupations with significant outdoor time such as fire fighters, groundskeepers, trash collectors, brick masons, sheet metal workers, plumbers, and electricians.

Utilizing ESRI ArcGIS 10.1, the reported cases of HRI by county were mapped. For each county, the report count was divided by the county population (Census 2010 estimates) and multiplied by 100,000 in order to obtain a report rate per 100,000 population. This is mapped in Figure 2 and helps visualize which counties are reporting higher HRI rates than one might expect based purely on population.

Finally, the weighted county MET employment for identified outdoor MET (OutMET) values were mapped. For each county, the sum of OutMET was divided by the county's average employment (Census 2010 estimates). These values are mapped in Figure 3.


Limitations exist in the current application that may explain the lack of statistical significance in correlations between HRI and occupational MET categories and obesity. For example, although obesity is a known risk factor for HRI (Gardner et al., 1996), Alabama's most obese counties correspond to some of the state's most rural counties, falling within the Black Belt region (CDC, 2006b). Someone experiencing an HRI in one of these counties may receive medical treatment in another county; thus, the reporting county does not necessarily correspond to the county of residence.

Other factors likely contributing to poor correlations between the various MET data categorizations and HRI include both low HRI sample size, only one year of data, and employment data aggregation. Employment data had to be estimated for most counties by extrapolating values from multicounty (MSA-level) data, which leads to poor spatial resolution. Mapping vulnerability to extreme heat events by mapping occupation-related risk may aid in developing geographically specific prevention strategies for extreme heat events. Mapping allows us to identify areas of greater risk from factors like occupation and obesity, singly or in combination and to plan accordingly. Datasets that have been further disaggregated to the ZIP code or census tract level will increase the statistical power of future analysis of occupational risk factors and increase the utility of mapping for local level adaptation planning. Comparing predicted MET risks with actual reported HRI cases is important, as no clear correlation may exist between HRI risk and the number of employees working in vigorous or outdoor occupations (Table 4). A higher MET value for these occupations may be offset by appropriate clothing/gear, work-rest cycles, and acclimation. Additional research into specific occupation risk factors is warranted, along the lines of the state of Washington study by Bonauto and co-authors (2007), who found, for example, that roofing construction had one of the highest workers' compensation HRI average annual claims rates.


County maps depicting HRI rates per capita and weighted MET rates depict areas of greater HRI incidence and potential occupational risk factors for HRI, respectively. Such maps may lead to improved public health strategies for health care professionals and emergency responders.

Additional promising future research avenues include the use of GIS tools to analyze both relatively static (demographic risk factors such as obesity and social vulnerability) and dynamic (environmental risk factors such as temperature and humidity) variables to the end that GIS may prove useful as a predictive tool by environmental and public health practitioners in order to prepare for heat-related emergencies.


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Alabama Department of Public Health. (2010). Heat leads to at least six deaths in Alabama this summer, precautions urged [Press release]. Retrieved from

Alabama Department of Public Health. (2012a). Heat-related illnesses. Retrieved from

Alabama Department of Public Health. (2012b). Heat-related illness and death, as of 9/14/12. Retrieved from assets/HeatRelatedCasesGraphic.pdf

Anderson, B.T. (2011). Near-term increase in frequency of seasonal temperature extremes prior to the 2[degrees]C global warming target. Climatic Change, 108(3), 581-589.

Bonauto, D., Anderson, R., Rauser, E., & Burke, B. (2007). Occupational heat illness in Washington State, 1995-2005. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 50(12), 940-950.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2000). Hypothermia-related deaths--Alaska, October 1998-April 1999, and trends in the United States, 1979-1996. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 49(1), 11-14.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004). County level estimates of obesity--state maps. Retrieved from diabetes/atlas/obesityrisk/atlas.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2006a). Heat-related deaths--United States, 1999-2003. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 55(29), 796-798.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2006b). Community health advisors light up Alabama's black belt. Retrieved from communityhealth-advisors-light-up-alabama-black-belt.htm

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Gardner, J.W, Kark, J.A., Karnei, K., Sanborn, J.S., Gastaldo, E., Burr, P, & Wenger, C.B. (1996). Risk factors predicting exertional heat illness in male Marine Corps recruits. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28(8), 939-944.

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National Cancer Institute. (2012a). Metabolic equivalent (MET) values for activities in American time use survey (ATUS). Retrieved from

National Cancer Institute. (2012b). Metabolic equivalent (MET) values for activities in the 2002 census occupational classification system (OCS). Retrieved from

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Pence, K., & Stefkovich, J. (2008). A comparison of the Alabama heat wave of August 2007 with that of June/July 1980. Retrieved from

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Taylor, A., & McGwin, G. (2000). Temperature-related deaths in Alabama. Southern Medical Journal, 93(8), 787-792.

Tudor-Locke, C., Washington, T.L., Ainsworth, B.E., & Troiano, R.P (2009). Linking the American time use survey (ATUS) and the compendium of physical activities: Methods and rationale. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 6(3), 347-353.

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Kyle G. Crider, MPA

School of Engineering

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Elizabeth H. Maples, MPH, PhD

Julia M. Gohlke, MS, PhD

School of Public Health

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Corresponding Author: Julia M. Gohlke, School of Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 1665 University Blvd., Birmingham, AL 35294.


Summary of 2012 Alabama
Heat-Related Deaths and

Category                   #

Heat-related deaths        6
  Other                    1
  (Blank)                  5
Heat-related illnesses    809
  Athletic related        104
  Other                   358
  Work related            347
Total                     815


Management Occupation
Title From 2002 Census      2002     2002     Assigned   Assigned
Occupational               Census   SOC (a)   Activity     MET
Classification System       Code     Code      Codes      Values

Fire fighters               3740    33-2011      12        5.0
Couriers and messengers     5510    43-5021      10        4.5
Agricultural inspectors     6010    45-2011      10        4.5
Logging workers             6130    45-4020      16        8.0
Brick masons, block         6220    47-2020      13        5.0
masons, and stone masons

(a) SOC = Standard Occupational Classification Codes.


Pearson Correlation Coefficients and p-Values for
Work-Related Heat-Related Illnesses and Employment
Rate in Various Metabolic Equivalent (MET)
Categories and Obesity

Category           Coefficient   p-Value

All METs              -.15         .59
MET <3.00             -.36         .18
MET 3.00-5.99          .45         .08
MET 6.00-10.00        -.17         .55
Outdoor METs          -.05         .87
Obesity                .29         .30


Master List of Outdoor Occupations

MET (a)    SOC (a)
 Value       Code     SOC Title

  8.0      45-4021    Fallers
  8.0      45-4022    Logging equipment operators
  8.0      45-4023    Log graders and scalers
  8.0      45-4029    Logging workers, all other
  7.5      47-2221    Structural iron and steel workers
  7.5      53-7062    Laborers and freight, stock, and material
                        movers, hand
  7.5      53-7121    Tank car, truck, and ship loaders
  6.0      47-2031    Carpenters
  6.0      47-2061    Construction laborers
  5.0      33-2011    Fire fighters
  5.0      47-2021    Brickmasons and blockmasons
  5.0      47-2051    Cement masons and concrete finishers
  5.0      47-2071    Paving, surfacing, and tamping
                        equipment operators
  5.0      47-2081    Drywall and ceiling tile installers
  5.0      47-2211    Sheet metal workers
  5.0      47-3011    Helpers--brickmasons, blockmasons,
                        stonemasons, and tile
  5.0      47-3012    Helpers--carpenters
  5.0      47-3013    Helpers--electricians
  5.0      47-3014    Helpers--painters, paperhangers,
                        plasterers, and stucco masons
  5.0      47-3015    Helpers--pipelayers, plumbers,
                        pipefitters, and steamfitters
  5.0      47-3016    Helpers--roofers
  5.0      47-3019    Helpers, construction trades, all other
  5.0      47-5021    Earth drillers, except oil and gas
  4.5      37-3011    Landscaping and groundskeeping
  4.5      37-3012    Pesticide handlers, sprayers, and
                        applicators, vegetation
  4.5      37-3013    Tree trimmers and pruners
  4.0      47-2132    Insulation workers, mechanical
  4.0      47-2141    Painters, construction and maintenance
  4.0      47-2151    Pipelayers
  4.0      47-2152    Plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters
  4.0      47-2171    Reinforcing iron and rebar workers
  4.0      47-4031    Fence erectors
  4.0      47-5011    Derrick operators, oil and gas
  4.0      47-5012    Rotary drill operators, oil and gas
  4.0      49-9021    Heating, air conditioning, and
                        refrigeration mechanics and installers
  4.0      51-2041    Structural metal fabricators and fitters
  4.0      53-7081    Refuse and recyclable material collectors
  3.5      47-2042    Floor layers, except carpet, wood, and hard tiles
  3.5      47-2044    Tile and marble setters
  3.5      47-2181    Roofers
  3.5      47-4051    Highway maintenance workers
  3.5      47-4071    Septic tank servicers and sewer pipe cleaners
  3.5      47-5081    Helpers--extraction workers
  3.0      43-5041    Meter readers, utilities
  3.0      45-2092    Farmworkers and laborers, crop, nursery,
                        and greenhouse
  3.0      45-2093    Farmworkers, farm and ranch, and aquacultural
  3.0      45-2099    Agricultural workers, all other
  3.0      47-2111    Electricians
  3.0      47-5041    Continuous mining machine operators
  3.0      47-5042    Mine cutting and channeling machine operators
  3.0      47-5049    Mining machine operators, all other
  3.0      49-9051    Electrical power line installers and repairers
  3.0      49-9052    Telecommunications line installers and repairers
  3.0      53-5011    Sailors and marine oilers
  2.5      17-1022    Surveyors
  2.5      19-1032    Foresters
  2.5      27-2022    Coaches and scouts
  2.5      27-2023    Umpires, referees, and other sports officials
  2.5      33-3041    Parking enforcement workers
  2.5      47-2073    Operating engineers and other
                        construction equipment operators
  2.0      33-9091    Crossing guards
  2.0      33-9092    Lifeguards, ski patrol, and other
                        recreational protective service workers
  1.5      53-7021    Crane and tower operators
  1.5      53-7032    Excavating and loading machine and
                        dragline operators

(a) MET = metabolic equivalent. SOC = Standard
Occupational Classification Codes.
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Author:Crider, Kyle G.; Maples, Elizabeth H.; Gohlke, Julia M.
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Geographic Code:1U6AL
Date:Jul 1, 2014
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