Brace for more frequent heatwaves – and tips on how to prepare for them
As Australians continue sweltering through one of the hottest periods on record, the Climate Council is warning that heatwaves in Australia are becoming more frequent and lasting longer, and the hottest days are becoming even hotter.
Releasing the Australian Heatwaves: Hotter, Longer, Earlier and More Often report’s interim findings, its author, Professor Will Steffen, said, “Australia has always had hot weather. However, climate change is loading the dice toward more extreme hot weather.
“The current conditions that Australians are experiencing are becoming more common. The current heatwave follows on from a year of extreme heat, the hottest summer on record and the hottest year on record.
“Heatwaves have significant impacts on our health, our infrastructure, our agriculture and our ecosystems. It is essential that we understand the influence of climate change on heatwaves to ensure that health services, transport providers, farmers and the community are prepared for what is happening now and what will happen increasingly in the future.”
The report says that hot records are now happening three times more often than cold records: “The number of hot days across Australia has more than doubled. Over the period 1971-2008 both the duration and frequency of heatwaves have increased, and the hottest days during heatwaves have become even hotter.”
Climate change, it adds, “is making many extreme events worse in terms of their impacts on people, property, communities and the environment. This highlights the need to take rapid, effective action on climate change. ”
Steffen says it is crucial for organisations across the board to prepare for the increases in the frequency and severity of extreme weather conditions.
According to WorkSafe Victoria’s Working in Heat guidance note, among the measures that can be taken by facility managers to combat heatwaves are:
- Increasing air movement using fans
- Installing shade cloth to reduce radiant heat from the sun
- Installing shields or barriers to reduce radiant heat from sources such as furnaces
- Removing heated air or steam from hot processes using local exhaust ventilation
- Installing air conditioners or coolers to reduce air temperature and generate air movement
- Locating hot processes away from people
- Insulating/enclosing hot processes or plant
- Isolating workers from the hot process by locating them in air conditioned control rooms.
Adding to this, the UK’s Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) has a list of heatwave tips for facility managers, including:
- Check that the heating is switched off.
- Audit/review the location and type of heat and/or moisture producing equipment such as printers, copiers, ovens, microwaves, etc. Consider if these can be reduced in number or moved away from work stations into central locations, preferably with local ventilation to remove heat at source.
- Check that unnecessary lights and equipment are switched off (not left on standby if possible) when not in use, particularly overnight. Inform and remind staff about this. Heat reduction and energy savings may be possible even for equipment in regular use if it is switched off between uses rather than left on standby.
- Ventilate at night to provide cooling, as long as security is not compromised. Leaving windows on upper floors open securely can help cool the building fabric, particularly if they can be open on opposite sides of the building to give cross-flow ventilation.
- Use fans to draw cool air in at night if the outdoor temperature is below the indoor temperature. If there are existing mechanical ventilation systems it can be beneficial for these to run overnight to cool down the building fabric before occupation.
- If air-conditioned, inform staff of the need to close doors and windows so it can work efficiently.
In the longer term, the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) has made a number of recommendations on managing heatwaves under climate change. These include:
- Reducing the intensity of urban heat islands by planning urban areas with regard to comfort of public areas through plantings, shading, and free airflow.
- Uprating building and infrastructure design standards to allow for more severe heatwaves, eg through incorporating passive cooling and ‘cool rooms’, and designing and building critical infrastructure to operate under severe heatwave conditions.
- Investigating strategies such as income insurance, contract conditions and temperature threshold specification that will enable work stoppages during long periods of extreme hot weather.