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Managing excessive heat in schools

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During very hot and extreme heat conditions, students, staff and the school community are at greater risk of health problems. These can be specific heat-related illnesses or a worsening of existing medical conditions. Health risks are greater when high temperatures combine with increased humidity.

Do schools remain open?

Yes. Unless the Principal or Regional Director determines that the school must temporarily close due to a disaster or emergency situation, Queensland state schools remain open and students are not sent home during periods of excessive heat or heatwave conditions. Staff manage risks associated with excessive heat at schools through a variety of strategies.

What is a heatwave?

Heatwave conditions are specifically when excessively high temperatures combine with high humidity levels and are sustained over a number of days. That means, although the predicted maximum temperature for a region may be in the mid-to-high 30s, unless this coincides with high humidity and lasts for a few days, it is considered 'hot' rather than a 'heatwave'.

People are most at risk during extreme heat conditions when the temperatures reach about 5 degrees Celsius above the average for sustained periods of time.

The Bureau of Meteorology provides a Heatwave Service for Australia with heatwave forecasts and heatwave assessments. This service is a set of maps showing colour-coded heatwave severity for the previous two three-day periods, and the next five three-day periods.

What are heat-related conditions?

Heat-related conditions cover a wide range of symptoms ranging from swelling of hands and feet, prickly heat occurring in acclimatised people and heat cramps, through to heat exhaustion, to the more severe and potentially fatal heat stroke.

Further information is available from the Queensland Government website .

Are animals are affected by heatwaves?

Yes. Animals can also be affected by heat-related illness. Animals in the care of a school should be monitored and sufficient food, water and shelter provided to safeguard their welfare.

Strategies

Heat management planning

  • Create infrastructure that reduces exposure to heat e.g. room ventilation, access to additional fans, shade provision (plant trees or build structures), source alternative venues for outdoor activities.
  • Consider the provision of at least one priority area of the school with artificial cooling.
  • Build staff and student awareness about the prevention, monitoring and identification of heat stress symptoms.
  • Consider suitable uniform options that incorporate UV protection and cooling fabrics.

Managing schools during excessive heat or heatwave conditions

  • Modify or suspend normal school activities during excessive heat.
  • Postpone any outdoor or sporting activities where appropriate
  • Increase access to the coolest areas of the school grounds or facilities for lessons or other activities.
  • Ensure students with additional support needs are appropriately supervised, including the monitoring of their hydration.
  • Utilise water spray bottles.
  • Ensure school lunch boxes are stored in cool areas.
  • Facilitate and encourage students to drink plenty of water and to stay out of the sun. Department of Health recommends that during hot weather, water (room temperature or slightly cool rather than very cold) is the best fluid to drink.
  • Undertake normal first aid procedures in the event of a student or staff member becoming heat stressed.
  • Prepare a communication strategy for the school community, informed by the Assistant Regional Director, that the school falls within the Extreme Heat Warning Zone (a heatwave is imminent).

For further information, refer to the Managing excessive heat in schools (DOC, 413KB) guidelines.

Playing and exercising safely in hot weather

Factors to consider when cancelling or postponing a sporting event include, but are not limited to:

  • the temperature—both ambient and relative humidity (local weather conditions can be checked on the Bureau of Meteorology website)
  • the duration and intensity of the event (for example, an endurance or distance event has more potential for problems than a stop-start team event)
  • rest and drink breaks
  • time of day
  • local environment
  • acclimatisation of the participants
  • fitness levels of participants
  • age and gender of participants.

If the ambient temperature is between 31 and 35 degrees Celsius and the relative humidity is over 50 per cent, there is a high to very high risk of heat illness. Planned vigorous, sustained physical activity should be limited in intensity or duration to less than 60 minutes per session.

If the ambient temperature is over 36 degrees Celsius and the relative humidity is over 30 per cent, there is an extreme risk of heat illness. Planned vigorous, sustained physical activity should be postponed to a cooler part of the day or even cancelled.

Refer to the Sports Medicine Australia Hot Weather Guidelines.

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Last updated 20 September 2018