What is Climate Resilience?
The world is facing rising temperatures and the media has a tendency to whip up a frenzy around how hot it is and doesn’t focus much on solutions to the problem. We are firm believers that the world’s weather patterns are cyclical and we need to be adaptable and build resilience to our climate. The question though is what does it mean to be climate resilient? Essentially Climate resilience is the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and respond to trends, hazardous events, or disturbances related to climate. We have a little motto here at Natural Cool Air that we developed for our HEATFIT program; Prepare, Perform, Recover, which is an integral part of how we help teams and businesses become climate resilient. Resilience to hot conditions is so important here in Australia and we can’t rely on energy heavy cooling systems in large spaces as it will just compound the problem and add to rising GHG emissions. Our goal is to educate and start a conversation around climate resilience to impact how we handle working in our climate.
How to be climate resilient in hot conditions
Ensure your team is prepared for high temperatures and hydration each day. This includes appropriate clothing, adequate nutrition, acclimatisation, and knowledge on proper hydration.
Support workers during their shift for optimal health and performance. Introduce work rest schedules for gruelling tasks and extreme temperatures.
Education on environmental conditions and hydration so employees can keep themselves healthy after their work day has ended.
Acclimatising to Extreme Temperatures
There are several health benefits to exposing your body to extreme heat and extreme cold which helps the body acclimatise to handle large fluctuations in temperature. Sitting in a sauna for 20 min every week and even something as simple as a cold shower for 30 sec is enough to reap the health benefits and condition your body to handle extreme temperatures. You can read more about the health benefits temperature exposure has here.
When looking at building a climate resilient team and workplace, we like to break it down into two parts: personal and environmental, to look at the factors of building resilience to working in hot conditions.
Clothing choice impacts the body greatly in thermoregulation. It’s common sense that when it’s hot we need lightweight breathable clothing and when it’s cold we need heavier insulating clothing. However, in terms of working in hot conditions clothing is often overlooked and should be considered a priority in helping create a climate resilient team. It’s important for PPE to allow for good air circulation around the body. This can be done with mesh panels, a light-weight material choice such as cotton or bamboo, and ensuring workers wear loose fitting clothing under PPE.
The tasks that individual workers perform will determine the level of heat stress they experience. One worker sitting relatively still may not suffer as much as another worker, in the same environment, performing physically demanding labour.
Activity will influence an individual’s experience of the temperature as well as their energy output, heart rate, sweat loss, risk of dehydration and experience of heat stress. The more vigorous the activity, the more heat the body generates. When the conditions are hot, workers performing such activities will struggle to moderate their core temperature and are at high risk of heat stress. Building resilience can be achieved by group fitness activities, acclimatisation and work rest schedules.
Workers wearing PPE while performing physically demanding activities in hot working environments can sweat as much as two to three litres an hour. Sweat is made up of water and electrolytes that are critical for cellular health and organ function. If not replaced, workers can suffer from low blood sugar, fatigue and reduced cognitive function. 3% dehydration can slow your reaction time to the same extent as 0.08 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). At 0.08 BAC you are five times more likely to crash your car, which begs the question – how much more likely are you to have a workplace accident when dehydrated? Many workplaces have implemented hydration plans to counter the negative effects of dehydration in hot environments. It’s important to ensure your policies and procedures around hydration properly address heat stress management to avoid unnecessary impacts upon the health and productivity of your workers.
The temperature in your building can be remarkably different from the temperature outside. In fact, it can vary throughout your building with heat pockets forming in certain areas. It is important to test and measure the temperature in your building to find the spots where heat is a problem – this is done by evaluating the structural qualities of your building such as the size and volume, roofing material, and insulation. Implementing low energy consumption cooling and passive cooling are a great way to help combat air temperature and aid climate resilience.
The way the air flows into, out of, and through your workspace impacts upon the effective temperature and the quality of the air. Keeping the air clean and free of pollutants is vital to the health of employees.
Effectively determining the airflow of work zones means assessing existing structural ventilation, such as windows and openings, and passive ventilation (eg. whirlybirds, exhausts and vented ridges). It also requires assessing any active forms of ventilation or existing sources of airflow, as well as specific climate data identifying wind speed, direction and chill.
Humidity is the amount of water vapour present in the air – the higher the percentage, the more humid the air-water mixture. This is important because a rise in relative humidity in your building increases the effective temperature to people working within the building by hindering evaporation of perspiration from the skin. For example, a relative humidity of 75% at a temperature of 27°C would actually feel like 29°C. Anyone who has visited a tropical climate will know that the presence of humidity can exacerbate heat stress. Humidity is very difficult to remove, but it can be effectively managed if its source, presence and impact are well understood.
Being climate resilient and working in hot climates is possible with preparation and precautions in place to manage the heat stress. Our motto prepare, perform, recover has been incredibly useful in helping our team and other businesses we’ve worked with become climate resilient. To learn more about Heat Stress you can download our free guide here. We also offer a HEATFIT program, with tools to better manage heat stress.