NYC public school kitchen workers may be exposed to hazardous heat levels

A study by researchers at CUNY SPH suggests that kitchen staff employed in New York City public schools may be exposed to excessive indoor heat levels.

Despite the known health risks associated with excessive heat exposure, particularly in occupational settings, there are little data describing potential heat exposures among workers in school kitchens. To quantify the extent of heat stress in New York City public school kitchens and to assess potential risk of heat-related illness or injury, CUNY SPH Assistant Professor Brian Pavilonis and 2020 MS graduate Michael Ierardi led a study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

The researchers performed a quantitative exposure assessment for three metabolic work-rate scenarios (light, moderate, heavy) in accordance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Heat Hazard Assessment methodology. Ten percent of school kitchens sampled exceeded the recommended Action Limit for the light work-rate scenario; 60 percent of schools exceeded this limit for the moderate work-rate scenario; and 80 percent of schools exceeded this limit for the heavy work-rate scenario.

In light of these findings, the researchers recommend employers implement adequate work-rest schedules for kitchen workers, in addition to other feasible engineering and administrative controls to mitigate potential risk of heat-related illness or injury.

“Occupational exposure to heat is an often-overlooked hazard and may result in workers developing injuries and illnesses,” says Pavilonis. “With climate change causing more frequent extreme heat events the likelihood of job related heat stress is increasing.”

Ierardi stressed the need for more research into heat hazards in other work environments.

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