Beat the heat: Why heatwaves are risky and how to prepare

Article published 18 October 2023

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Heatwaves are getting longer, hotter and more deadly.

AS you are likely aware, the Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed there is an El Niño weather pattern underway. This comes with extreme dry heat. This type of weather can prove very dangerous as it causes heatwaves and increases the risk of out-of-control bushfires.

Extreme heat is recognised as a significant cause of death in Australia, and research suggests that heatwaves are getting longer, hotter and more deadly.

Heatwaves can be particularly dangerous for people with existing health conditions such as heart problems, respiratory illnesses, auto-immune diseases, and dementia.

Individual risk factors

  • Taking medication that makes you more sensitive to heat.
  • Working outdoors or having to travel without shade or air-conditioning.
  • Being unable to afford to cool your home.
  • Living in a home with poor insulation.
  • Living in an area that typically has a higher-than-average temperature.
  • Social isolation.

Australia is facing multiple social issues that are likely to make this situation worse, creating a very dangerous environment for people who are vulnerable to extreme temperatures.

Social factors

In terms of housing, the national vacancy rate is estimated to be sitting at a tiny 1.1%. Anglicare’s 2023 Rental Affordability Snapshot found that only 0.4% of rentals were affordable for a person on the Age Pension, and 0% were affordable for a person who receives the JobSeeker Payment.

As a result, it’s very difficult to find better housing options. There also might not be all that much money left after paying their rent, meaning that energy bills become more difficult to manage.

Right now, Australia is facing an energy crisis. Many of us are already struggling with the rising cost of energy and summer hasn’t even begun. According to a survey by Energy Consumers Australia, 52% of households are more concerned about paying their electricity than they were a year ago.

In NSW, the Energy and Water Ombudsman has reported that complaints about high energy bills have gone up by around 35%.

Rural, regional and remote areas are dealing with the impact of the housing crisis as well as the increased cost of energy. On top of this, there are limited transportation options available which means it is more difficult to get to cool places or to travel between them.

The upshot of all this is that this summer is going to be very hot, and a lot of us are going to have a hard time staying cool.

Some things to consider

Whilst the Government has some work to do in order to ensure that we can all access safe and healthy living environments, it is also important to be aware of what you can do to look after yourself.

  • Figure out what room of your house is the coolest. Consider putting up block out curtains as they can reduce heat as well as light. As a back-up plan, keep a note of local spaces that are air-conditioned and are close by – think public libraries, shopping centres or community recreation centres.
  • If you want to stay active, run errands or do some outdoor work it’s a good idea get out and about early in the morning or as it gets cooler in the evening. You don’t want to be out in the sun during the hottest part of the day.
  • If you need to walk somewhere, be sure to consider how far the trip is and to think ahead. It is best not to walk alone or without letting someone know where you are going and when to expect you. Remember that heatstroke can set in very rapidly and even a short walk could be very dangerous. Always wear appropriate clothing and carry water.
  • Be aware of the signs of heatstroke, how to prevent it, and what to do.

It is also a good idea to look into what energy rebates you might be eligible for, or who to contact if you are having a hard time paying your bill.


If you live in NSW:

If you are elsewhere in Australia, you can find information on assistance here. You can also use the Australian Government’s Energy Made Easy website to compare energy retailers and find the right plan for you.

If you’re having trouble figuring out how to find the information you need, you can also get in touch with us on 1800 451 488

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