Many people view air conditioning as a “nice to have”, but in a heatwave, it has a more critical role to play, both in the workplace and the home. It can prevent serious illness in the elderly and in young children, as both of these groups have problems regulating their body heat. Those with pre-existing illnesses will find it difficult to cope with heat, and other groups such as pregnant women, may find hot weather particularly difficult to cope with at work.
For employers, with a legal duty of care to employees and others who use their premises, this is an important factor to consider. Schools have to consider the fact that young children have a metabolism that produces more heat, and are unable to sweat efficiently to reduce their body heat. This makes them more likely to experience a faster rise in their core temperature if they become dehydrated.
The government’s heatwave plan (https://www.gov.uk/
There are two main reasons for this excess mortality – both of which can be mitigated by the use of air conditioning.
Air conditioning can counteract higher pollution
Firstly, people who have respiratory problems will be affected by the rise in air pollution that happens during hot weather. Those working, living or holidaying in air-conditioned environments will not only be cooler, but will benefit from the filtering of allergens, ozone and particulate matter, carried out before the air is introduced into the interior of the building.
The second reason for increased mortality rates is the action of heat on people’s cardiovascular system. When we get hot, our body pushes a lot of extra blood to our skin, which is why hot people often look flushed. However, this action causes a lot of strain on our hearts. For older people and those who already have a chronic illness, this can cause heart failure.
Similarly, when people sweat a lot, they become dehydrated and this can affect their electrolyte balance. If someone is taking a drug to control this balance, or to regulate their heart, the imbalance can be a critical risk.
Unfortunately, a great many drugs that people take, such as antihistamines or blood pressure medication, can also increase people’s vulnerability to heat. Infections such as e-coli become more common during heatwaves.
We could use solar to combat heatwaves
So, whether it’s at home or in a school, factory or office, air conditioning is a vital environmental control once temperatures are over 25C. We worry about hypothermia and being cold in winter, but we are fairly relaxed about the risks of hyperthermia (suffering from high temperatures) in summer. This is partly because our climate was cooler in the past – but the frequency of heatwaves is forecast to rise significantly.
In the same way that we use solar power to give us energy for heating, in the future, many people will be using solar to provide renewable energy for air conditioning, in order to work productively, sleep well and wake up refreshed during a heatwave.