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Pondering Heat Stress and Dosimetry

Stay hydrated, get some shade, and take breaks.

The original dosimeter was made to detect radiation exposure. The original types, disposable, worked by making it apparent how much chemical change had resulted from ionization. Modern radiation dosimetry uses electronic sensors to achieve the same purpose, but are more accurate and reusable. (See OSHA: “Ionizing Radiation”: Dosimeters.)

There are also dosimeters for noise. They detect how much loud noise a worker is subjected to over time, in order to help protect their hearing. (See OSHA: “Occupational Noise Exposure”.)

And there is dermal dosimetry, which isn’t broadly developed, but is meant to measure how much of some environmental contaminant or toxin gets deposited on a worker’s skin. (See OSHA: “Dermal Exposure”.)

But I haven’t found much about heat dosimetry. (See OSHA: “Heat Illness Prevention” for general information about occupational heat stress.)

The labor problem of extreme heat may require the creation of a new type of dosimeter. This might be called thermal dosimetry, but that already refers to quantifying how much heat a medical patient receives in therapeutic hyperthermia—the use of heat to treat cancers.

Heat dosimetry would need to monitor a person’s time in environments that harm their body’s ability to regulate temperature. It’s a complex problem, which has been avoided in favor of self-monitoring and following general guidelines (access to shade, water, and breaks; monitoring environmental conditions generally, including sunlight and the heat indexed temperature).

It is somewhat complicated by the concept of acclimatization. People who are exposed to hot environments see their bodies adapt to be better suited to work in those environments. A gradual increase in exposure over a week or two makes the body better at sweating and maintaining body temperature in hot environments. (See CDC: NIOSH: “Heat Stress Acclimatization”.)

Would a theoretical heat dosimeter need to be calibrated or toggled for acclimatization? Only to a point. There are limits to how well the body can adapt to extreme heat and humidity, and so at levels beyond those, measuring strict exposure time would be enough.

Heat is a combination of several factors. Air temperature is the most obvious, but sun exposure and humidity are very important as well. There is also the surroundings, what the person wears, general fitness, and acclimatization. Finally, the type of activity the person engages in has a major effect in how rapidly they heat up.

If a heat dosimeter existed, it would need at least three components. One would monitor sunlight, another ambient temperature, and the third would measure humidity. Some reference values would be needed, but calculating the heat index with an adjustment for sun exposure would probably add up to a basic dose-check that could be used.

Unlike other exposure dosimeters, the big difference with heat is rapid recovery time—if the person has not been overexposed. While radiation, noise, and toxins provoke absolutely cumulative harms, heat exposure (up to a limit) can be tolerated with rest and removal from bad conditions. That’s an argument both in favor and against using dosimetry: it’s a recoverable condition, and regular breaks with relief from the heat are sufficient protection, but if only vitals are monitored, waiting for warning signs may be harmful.

On the other hand, measuring symptoms might work better than the traditional dosimetry approach. Monitoring the heat stress symptoms of the person may prove a better fit than trying to treat the problem like typical exposure dosimetry. That would include heart rate, body temperature, and hydration level.

Measuring acclimatization is important as well, and could probably be derived from the other measures. A person’s level of acclimatization can vary from day to day, depending on other stresses they may be under (including how much sleep they’ve had, dietary fluctuations), so acclimatization shouldn’t be treated as a binary.

Better heat-monitoring tools are definitely needed. Whether it’s practical or desirable to monitor exposure to environmental heat remains to be seen. Monitoring vitals directly, rather than exposure, has the benefit of alerting to other conditions and issues. Having regular breaks and access to adequate shade and cold water are enough to prevent most heat issues up to a point. Beyond that point, measuring heat doses may be important.

There are other alternatives to working in hot environments. Night work or temporarily and partially conditioned environments may be possible, but come with their own challenges. Night shifts cause sleep-related stresses and has some extra costs associated with it. Partial conditioning of a work environment requires extra labor and costs. How those costs stack up against working with heat isn’t clear.

For example, installing fixed poles for stretching tarps or canopies over a field to provide shade during fieldwork might be a practical mitigator for farms. Roadwork can benefit from night shifts, as it reduces traffic woes as well.

All that being said, it’s likely some companies have or will explore heat dosimetry. And it’s likely that at least some workers would benefit from it, even in the presence of direct monitoring of their vital signs and health. It will be interesting to see what the devices look like and how they operate.

It’s sure that the world is getting hotter from climate change, and we have to keep looking for ways to adapt.

Reactive Labor

When you undertake effort in response to some new information, that’s reactive labor.

One of the features of the Donald John Trump presidency was reactive labor. The idiot would tweet or otherwise spew some nonsense, and the media would dutifully try to forensically reconstruct the meaning. They would do work, they would labor, in reaction. It’s not something exclusive to Donald John Trump, or even to politics, but it is an interesting behavior.

Often, when reading news, we’re looking for articles that provide information to generate reactive labor. We want to know what changes are happening in the world so that we can prepare for them. That is why clickbait works. It disguises an article as potentially containing such a nugget of information that we might refine into work that will protect or improve our lives.

But there are other efforts to create reactive labor. Adversarial reactive labor occurs when, for example, Republicans counterfeit outrage in their base over a non-subject like Critical Race Theory. Democrats must react, must undertake efforts to reassure the public that they aren’t evil. A similar thing happens with the border and with increases in violent crimes.

Republicans are not alone in their efforts. They coopt the media in their campaigns. The media, not themselves versed in Critical Race Theory, dutifully reports the outrage, gives it enough credence that the average voter, still uninformed about what CRT actually is and isn’t, worries about it.

That worry is reactive labor of a particular type. It is similar to clickbait, in that the man on the street doesn’t know what she’s worried about, but she’s worried. It is a complete media failure to spread worry without reason. And then I read about that situation and feel compelled to write this essay about the phenomenon.

I’ve read several articles about the rise in violent crime, with their reporting that some Republicans want to pin it on Democrats because of efforts to reform policing. I still don’t have a good grasp on the actual deviation of violence. I’m not sure if it’s a real problem in terms of a shift versus an outlier. And the media isn’t either. Often the media is worried about looking ignorant or worried that they’ll miss a shift, so they’ll report it as real. And Republicans are very good at making them worry about that. Very good at generating reactive labor.

One of the keys to defending media and other institutions against reactive labor is to establish norms that defy such worries. For example, take the obituary. It is more or less a solid form. Everyone knows about what to expect from the obituary. While there are opportunities to write a better or worse obit, the basic form is known and followed. There should be more formulaic journalism done, if only to deprive opportunists trying to generate reactive labor that benefits them or harms their opponents.

Reactive labor happens in all sorts of areas, including business and international relations. The enemies of freedom spew out propaganda? The friends of freedom feel compelled to counter it. The opportunity cost is real. Our neighbors skip vaccines because they reactively worry they’ll be turned into mutants, and come fall we might see fresh surges of COVID-19. The poisons generated through some kinds of reactive labor cause real harms, fear being the most common poison.

Hate is another. Republicans have vilified immigrants over the years, creating hatred that has made America less capable of securing its borders and having an orderly immigration system that would benefit us all. Or the hate generated by Donald John Trump against Asian Americans through his scapegoating of China for his own failures on COVID. And so on.

We must always be careful to ask why we are worried, why we feel hatred, or why we are otherwise engaged in a form of reactive labor. Is the labor productive? Sometimes we avoid labors that seem reactive, because we want to avoid unproductive activities. In the case of the DOJ, they seem set to not reform from the mistakes of the department under Donald John Trump, out of worry it would look political to do the right thing.

We should try to better understand reactive labor and refuse to be abused by those who want to make us miserable for their own benefit.

Bostock: What Does Sex Mean in Antidiscrimination?

Or why the term sex must encompass things like sexual orientation.

The SCOTUS decided to recognize the law protecting employees from firing for discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The decision hinges on the meaning of sex in the statute banning discrimination on that basis.

The question arises, what does it mean to ban sex discrimination? And that’s what the court had to answer.

Imagine for a moment you are trying to hire a person to push buttons in your factory. The applicants all come in dressed in those big mascot costumes. Their names are all types of clouds, like Cumulonimbus and MicroAmazon. But, you, being of the false belief that women are better at pressing buttons, want to hire a woman for the job. So you try to find some way to decide one mascot is a woman, and hire that one.

But over the course of ten years, you never do find out who it is in that mascot suit pressing all those buttons. It remains a mystery.

That is what the Supreme Court decided. We all have to buy and wear mascot costumes. I, personally, will be getting a costume to look like a Supreme Court justice, so you’ll have to find some other idea. Sorry.

Anyway, the above situation is meant to elicit the basic idea of expression. Without expression of sex, there is no discrimination of sex, because nobody would know how to discriminate on that basis. This happens to be true for the other protections in Title VII, as well, though oftentimes race and sex are assumed on some apparent characteristics, ultimately it comes down to expression. And religion, of course, always relies on expression, as nobody knows what anyone truly believes and only knows what they espouse. Also, national origin, which relies on express documentation and perhaps an accent or knowing a lot about your home country.

Without expression of these characteristics, there is no basis to discriminate. One could still be a bigot without, as in the example trying to hire the mascot with a woman inside, but one would never know if one was a successful bigot. And, besides, unsuccessful bigotry still violates the law against discrimination. If you fire someone because you believe they are one of those things, even if they aren’t, that’s still discriminatory.

Okay. So once you arrive at the realization that what sex really means is expression of sex, what is that? People don’t generally go around introducing themselves: “Hi, I’m Silver Lining and although I am dressed as a rubber chicken, I’m actually biologically female.” People almost never say what sex they are. Think about it, when was the last time you said aloud what sex you are? (And no cheating and saying it right now!)

Expression of sex, your social sexual identity, is based on some behaviors including how you dress, speak, your sexual orientation, the type of bicycle you ride, etc. Now, some people may express their social identity differently, by biting the heads or feet off the gummy bears first, for example. The court has to decide where to draw the line on what is a protected expression of sex, and what is just being a bit weird with your candy, dude.

And that analysis, which wasn’t really done in Bostock, probably comes down to commonality of a type of expression. That is, just because you express yourself in a unique way doesn’t mean it’s not protected. But is that expression of a type that is common to humans generally expressing their sex?

Anyway, the election is in nineteen weeks.