The heat is on: keeping the vulnerable safe during heatwaves

12 February 2019
Associate Professor Ollie Jay and an international team are recruiting people over 60 to take part in a study which will measure human physiological responses to over 1900 simulated heatwave exposures.


As Australia sweltered through its warmest month on record in January, scientists at the University of Sydney were working behind the scenes to find the best ways to keep the most vulnerable in our community safe during heatwaves.

Associate Professor Ollie Jay is leading a National Health and Medical Research Council funded study which will develop the world’s first evidence-based guidance for sustainable cooling strategies for vulnerable people during extreme heat events.

“Heatwaves aren’t an anomaly anymore and these records are just going to continue to be broken,” said Associate Professor Jay, Director of the Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Leader of the Charles Perkins Centre Climate Adaptation and Health research node.

“Older people and people with cardiovascular disease are at an increased risk during extreme heat due to their reduced ability to sweat, which is the key way our bodies cool down.

“With 25 percent of Australians not having air-conditioning and many more not having the financial means to run it, it is essential that we have the scientific evidence to back effective and affordable at-home strategies to help these people stay safe during heatwaves.”

About the study

Associate Professor Jay and an international team, including researchers from the University of Montreal (Canada) and UT Southwestern (USA), are recruiting people over 60 to take part in the study which will measure human physiological responses to over 1900 simulated heatwave exposures.

Under careful medical supervision, participants will be exposed to various heatwave conditions and cooling strategies. Scientists will measure how high participants’ core temperature gets, how much work their heart has to do to keep cool, and how dehydrated they become.

Conditions will be modelled on actual events including the very hot and dry conditions of the Adelaide 2009 heatwave and the hot and humid conditions of Europe 2003, which reportedly led to 70,000 deaths.

The current project comes on the back of Associate Professor Jay’s previous work published in the Journal of American Medical Association which questioned public health advice on fan use. 

“Current public health guidance is vague and not based on the latest scientific evidence. Our project will change this and will ultimately save lives,” commented Dr Jay.

5 key facts about heatwaves

  1. According to the Bureau of Meteorology January 2019 was Australia’s warmest month on record.
  2. Since 2013, Australia has experienced four of the five hottest years on record.
  3. Over the past 20 years, heatwaves in Australia and worldwide have caused more deaths than any other natural disasters combined.
  4. The European heatwave in 2003 caused 6-times more deaths in one month than the Ebola virus did worldwide in two years.
  5. The elderly, poor and people with coronary heart disease are the most vulnerable.

Participant information

The University of Sydney is seeking participants, 60 years or older, for a new study which aims to identify the best ways to keep cool during hot weather without air-conditioning. Testing will take place at the University’s Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory in Lidcombe.  

For more information on the study contact: or phone 0436 474 104.

Michelle Blowes

Media and PR Adviser (Health Sciences)

Kobi Print

Media and PR Adviser (Medicine & Health)

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