Extreme heat has become the new normal. The onset of tragic weather and climate related disasters have become the norm across the world, caused and exacerbated by climate change and global warming. In the wake of rising temperatures, access to cooling technologies have not met the demands of the people who need it. Prolonged exposure to heat poses several health risks, including increased risk to physical and mental wellbeing (NOAA).
For laborers working in intense, sweltering conditions, heat impedes worker productivity: in 2020 alone, 295 billion hours of potential work were lost due to extreme heat exposure according to a study by the Lancet (PHYS).
Among many communities and workers, frontline workers are often at the forefront of experiencing sweltering temperatures for sustained periods. For marginalized populations that already lack the resources to protect themselves from heat, the possibility of losing important frontline workers poses greater risk for the health and safety of community members. These members do not have the ability to adjust to such environmental changes.
Unfortunately, those “effects” are already here, and little is available to protect us from these ecological changes.
Eztia’s passive cooling HydraVolt™ technology spearheads the development of adaptive technology to help support frontline workers and community members adjust to new environments.
Diving into a variety of different groups of frontline workers, we explore the existing pain points across several fields that have yet to incorporate proper technologies that preserve the health of our frontline workers.
In 2021, researchers Fullagar et. al. studied 473 Australian firefighters to analyze their key heat stresses and pain points in the journal Applied Ergonomics. This comprehensive study covered both the high-temperature work environments as well as other commonly overlooked factors concerning heat stress including equipment weight and material composition.
First, some toplines: roughly 75% of firefighters reported facing signs of heat-related illness, including: headaches, sudden muscle cramps, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fainting, and other similar symptoms.
More than two-thirds of fire department and HAZMAT operators detailed heat stress and injury during work activities. These are debilitating conditions that place incredible physical and mental burden in high stress situations, especially considering that firefighters have a dual responsibility to those who they save and to their own safety. In the US, 25% of fire departments offer no cooling solutions at all for these firefighters.
Not every fire is the same, and therefore each situation places unique stresses on a firefighter’s body. Firefighters ranked a few different types of fires as follows: structural firefighting is the hottest, followed by bushfire, and lastly rescue operation fires. There is no current one-size-fits-all solution that might cover the various levels of heat exposure faced in these different scenarios.
Unfortunately, the gear that currently protects firefighters from extreme heat traps high temperature and extremely humid air near the skin in hot situations. Additionally, fire fighting suits are heavy and cumbersome, and the extra effort required to move around in these suits results in more physical stress, more heat production, and more susceptibility to heat stress.
Currently, not much. Firefighters described that quick fixes, such as wrist and forearm ice packs, ice slushies, and cold water immersion, are not sustainable solutions. Ideas such as cooling vests and garments would not be able to target the parts of the body that need relief. Firefighters ranked their body parts by susceptibility, focusing particularly on the head and upper back in addition to the whole body. Equipping firefighters with cooling garments in all of these places would be prohibitively bulky, driving more exertion and heat.
Ice packs was a common answer, but specifically low-profile ice packs in collars or leg sleeves would fight excess heat and joint inflammation. A perfect solution would involve a low-profile, lightweight cooling material that could be applied anywhere on the body with direct relief to the joints and skin areas in need.
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated dangerous heat-related issues that healthcare personnel (HCP) must face on a day to day basis. The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the longer, more intense work during the pandemic contributed to major heat-stress related concerns for these frontline workers.
The heightened focus on emergency patient care and long-term prevention has put safety of healthcare workers to the wayside.
As we continue to experience new global health crises, it is important to find actionable solutions to heat stress related issues for HCP and provide the necessary resources to support the health and safety of the healthcare workers who risk their lives daily.
Currently, there are various strategies to combat heat stress in the workplace. In a journal article for the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a survey of healthcare workers with PPE during the pandemic found, “cold drinks and ice slurry ingestion were the most frequently used heat mitigation strategies and were available in 63.5% of participants, respectively.”
Cold drinks and ice slushies only temporarily reduce heat stress, and for longer operations prove to be less effective. Generally, conventional cooling strategies have limitations in terms of their compliance with hygiene standards: hospitals use air conditioning units and fans, but these often spread germs and can prove dangerous during an airborne pandemic like COVID.
In addition to these conventional techniques, the article suggests several potential cooling solutions that it claims are particularly safe, hygienic, rapidly scalable for every hospital, and easy to implement in clinical settings. Specifically, it states that cooling devices worn under PPE prior to, during, and after HCP’s work can effectively reduce strain.
This means that creative cooling methods used in other fields can also be effective for healthcare workers.
With 27 million soldiers across the world, the armed forces is the largest group of frontline workers. Soldiers must traverse extremely hot terrain across the world while wearing bulky equipment and complete strenuous tasks.
In the US military alone, 1667 cases of heat exhaustion and 17 heat related deaths were recorded in 2020. Generally, heat illness is practically unavoidable given the physical workload soldiers have to endure during their deployments and training.
Surprisingly, the most heat-related illnesses occur during foot and march training events rather than in the line of duty. Foot marches and running events accounted for more than 80% of all heat stroke casualties in the US. It may seem shocking that training events in the military would be the highest cause of heat-related illnesses. This is mainly due to the fact that these events and training sessions are held in remote settings, like Fort Benning, Georgia, and are not properly staffed with medical coverage to treat heat stress.
The standard protocol for heat stress in the military is rapid and aggressive cooling, which is very effective in treatment. However, after a heat-related incident, soldiers are required to rest for 1 week before returning to training or combat. This causes a large-scale waste of resources for the military, causing delays in deployment and less effective combat missions.
The entire load of their gear can weigh up to an additional 68 pounds, which exacerbates the risks of heat stress. This equipment traps heat close to the body, increasing proximal humidity and body temperature. This is also an unavoidable risk factor for heat stress because all of a soldier's gear is essential. The current ailment is using ice packs and dry-wick clothing to help reduce the stress on the body, however these haven’t been proven to be effective, especially during a mission.
The Eztia Active Patch is particularly suitable for the military because it’s cost-effective, reusable, and can reduce core body temperature rather than providing a temporary feeling of relief. From a systemic standpoint, the use of the Eztia Active Patch would significantly increase worker productivity and allow for better use of resources throughout the military.
When it comes to client outreach and eventually integration, one of the most integral components is synergy. From Eztia’s compatibility with its clients to how the companies benefit each other in a fiscally tangible way, it is imperative that Eztia executes any partnership in a way that maximizes consumer interaction.
Many social organizations exist to educate and further enhance the experience of workers and standard of living for those disproportionately affected by heat exposures, but none have implemented concrete and long-lasting adaptive solutions to combat the issue.
Organizations supporting worker’s rights as well as groups that contain workers themselves would be both important clients and investors to the Eztia Active Patch.
The Eztia Active Patch is beneficial to anyone who works in long, heated, and/or poorly ventilated conditions. More specifically, frontline workers wearing heavy equipment, going through strenuous training, and working long hours would find themselves benefiting from this product.
It is important to appeal to both frontline worker advocacy organizations as well as groups consisting of the frontline workers themselves. Many frontline workers, especially firefighters, also find themselves in local chapters of nationwide unions and societies like the Philadelphia Firefighters' and Paramedics Union. Starting by supporting separate local chapters throughout different states and counties would not only help the workforce from a more concentrated and detailed way but also expand Eztia’s reach.
High heat exposure and access to refuge are found to be significantly influenced by socio-demographic status. These communities also do not have their basic needs for frontline workers, especially medical professionals, met. Therefore, human rights organizations such as the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) would help those in underprivileged neighborhoods and communities as well as ill-treated workers in less than humane conditions.
Integration of frontline workers into the mission of these human rights organizations as well as introducing them to the Eztia Active Patch would provide long-lasting relief for these communities disproportionately affected by heat without access to resources or care.
Climate consulting organizations, such as Econler, or consulting groups with climate initiatives looking to create business value and create sustainable impact would find a mutually beneficial relationship investment with Eztia. Climate awareness advocacy groups as well as organizations that promote community resilience against climate change, namely organizations like the Cool Coalition, ClimateWorks Foundation, and the Atlantic Council would find particular interest in a solution to a long-time consequence of climate damage.
The combination of these social organizations and businesses would promote both their mission as well as Eztia’s mission is “to engineer technologies that equitably advance human health and protect our planet.”
Eztia provides low-cost, effective solutions to many of the heat stress and general exhaustion related issues healthcare workers, firefighters, and military personnel face.
Healthcare workers face challenges because they work in settings that need to be sanitary for long periods of time. Other forms of cooling technology such as air conditioning units are not adequate ways for healthcare workers to manage heat stress because they can spread disease.
Eztia’s HydraVolt™ cooling technology incorporates passive cooling to meet the diverse needs of frontline workers: Eztia’s HydraVolt™ material will not spread disease through ice packs, water packs, or any liquid tanks that can harbor microbes and viruses. Our cold therapy wearables are small and will not impede bodily function.
For military personnel, patches can be applied before and after run and march events and be reused multiple times. Additionally, patches can be used for recovery and pain relief if someone were to get injured.
Overall, the Eztia Active Patch provides an innovative cooling technology that resolves many of the heat related challenges frontline workers currently face. Therefore, by using the Eztia Active Patch, frontline workers can overcome these challenges, improving their working conditions.
Systematically, the use of Eztia’s product can significantly increase worker productivity, allowing for businesses and workforces to optimize their worker output. But most importantly, Eztia has the opportunity to provide wide-scale social impact and start the conversation on sustainable cooling solutions.
With the renewable properties present in the HydraVolt™ design, frontline workers are able to reuse their patches instead of single-use products. Eztia’s value of providing climate-friendly cooling is a win for all stakeholders involved, and is an easy choice for all businesses. Of course, Eztia’s potential uses expand far beyond this article, but the impact it can provide for frontline workers is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Authors: Daniel Hwang, Sid Thakker, Ava Chen, Aneesh Karuppur, Emily Kim, Dhruv Khurjekar, and Krishna Jaladanki in partnership with Wharton Undergraduate Healthcare Club