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Hot and getting hotter: Australia must plan and adapt

Hot and Getting Hotter

The last three years have seen the planet swelter in the hottest temperatures ever recorded, with 2014, 2015 and 2016 seeing increasingly hot global conditions.

The last 15 years were among the 16 hottest years since record began in 1880, according to Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) climate statements, with global temperatures continuing to rise due to greenhouse gas emissions trapping heat in our atmosphere.

In Australia, 2016 was the fourth hottest year ever, while surrounding ocean temperatures were the hottest ever recorded. Autumn 2016 was Australia’s hottest ever.

Hot and Getting Hotter

2016: Where Was it Hottest?

Tasmania saw its hottest year ever in 2016 while Queensland had its equal second-hottest year. The Northern Territory faced its fourth-hottest, it was Victoria’s fifth-hottest and New South Wales had its sixth-hottest year.

Global patterns paint similar pictures with almost all global land areas warmer than average, while North America had its hottest year on record “by a substantial margin”.

The global ocean surface temperature for 2016 was also the warmest on record, surpassing a record only set in 2015.

“No year since 1985 has observed a below average global mean temperature, and all of the ten warmest years have occurred between 1998 and the present,” the 2016 BOM Climate Statement said.

Hot and Getting Hotter

A separate 2016 State of the Climate Report – jointly produced by the BOM and the CSRIO – says that in Australia, the number of days per year over 35°C has increased, and forecasts that it will continue to do so.

“While not every year will be warmer than the last, the overall warming trend is expected to continue,” the report says.

Furthermore, the duration, frequency and intensity of extreme heat events have increased across large parts of Australia, which affects many people.

“Australia will need to plan for and adapt to some level of climate change.”


Australians Must Plan and Adapt to the Heat

As it gets hotter, businesses who employ workers to perform physically demanding tasks in hot conditions – often with heavy clothing and PPE – will need to plan and adapt with heat stress and hydration strategies.

Extreme heat combined with physical activity can result in sweating up to three litres an hour, while 10 litres in a shift is common. If not replaced, this fluid and associated electrolyte loss can quickly become dangerous – either from reduced cognitive function while using tools or heavy machinery, or from associated heat stress.

In fact, during heat waves there is a spike in deaths of up to around 60 per cent, with the extreme temperatures exacerbating existing medical conditions.

As it gets hotter heat deaths are predicted to increase, compounding the need for heat stress education, awareness and management programs.

For more information, see THORZT’s Workplace Heat Stress Guide and Workplace Hydration Guide.