Women jogging in the heat

Sydney research informs Sports Medicine Australia's new heat policy

24 February 2021
SMA unveils new extreme heat policy
Pioneering research into heat and health from the University of Sydney's Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory has paved the way for the development of Sports Medicine Australia's new extreme heat policy.

Developed by Professor Ollie Jay and Dr James Smallcombe from the University of  Sydney with Associate Professor Carolyn Broderick of UNSW Sydney and Chief Medical Officer of Tennis Australia, the policy aims to provide evidence-based guidance to protect the health of those participating in all summer sport and physical activity across Australia.

“We are very pleased to be taking the lead internationally on incorporating the latest scientific evidence into clear guidelines that can be used by sporting organisations to manage the risks of sport or physical activity in extreme conditions,” said Ollie Jay, Professor of Heat and Health in the Faculty of Medicine and Health and a member of the Charles Perkins Centre.

Research underway by Professor Ollie Jay and his team in the purpose-built climate chamber in the University's new Susan Wakil Health Building which officially opens this week.

As the impact of climate change is seen globally, extreme heat is experienced during the summer in some parts of Australia while other parts of the country experience high temperatures year-round. 

The new policy was developed in response to an imperative need for updated evidence-based guidelines to provide all sporting participants with the tools and knowledge required for safe participation in extreme heat conditions.

Chief Medical Officer for Tennis Australia Carolyn Broderick emphasises the importance of the new policy as temperatures continue to soar through summer sporting seasons.

“Extreme heat is becoming a major concern particularly for those involved in summer sport. The new policy is intended to be used by all sports stakeholders from community officials, sports trainers and volunteers through to elite level sport, relevant to both training and competition to provide safe guidelines for participation in extreme conditions,” Broderick said.

The policy has been developed based on new research undertaken in the Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory, and now accommodates the varied risks associated with individual sports and a revised risk assessment methodology, looking at heat risk not just from temperature but from both environmental (temperature and humidity, with consideration of sun/radiation and wind) and sport-specific factors (heat production, clothing/equipment), providing a continuous assessment of risk for combinations of factors.

Professor Ollie Jay explains how the updated policy covers new ground.

“This updated policy eliminates blind spots of temperature and humidity that are present in the previous guidelines, and also provides protection under conditions that often occur in Australia that are very hot but dry, yet induce potentially dangerous levels of sweating and physiological strain during exercise,” said Professor Jay.

“The policy provides the latest evidence-based recommendations around what people can do to mitigate risk using cooling interventions and strategies that have been scientifically shown to work, as opposed to conventional wisdom.”

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the University of Sydney’s Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory Dr James Smallcombe shared that the work isn’t stopping here, with further tools and research still to come.

“There are currently future plans to undertake further tailoring for specific demographics. For example, our ongoing NHMRC-funded project grant at the University of Sydney will generate specific recommendations for children and youth. We also have a mobile app in development, where the user will input sport type, location and date of competition or training and start time, and will receive a risk assessment for their specific sport and recommendations for managing heat risks based upon the new policy,” said Dr Smallcombe.

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