By Dr Sarah Alexander
Early childhood services have adjusted well to the blistering heat that has been gripping most of the country, even though services in NZ are not generally built to keep children and adults cool under heat wave conditions.
ChildForum has received a few reports of centres with inadequate outdoor shade and centres with sleep rooms that have become stifling, with ambient temperatures of more than 26 degrees. The sleep rooms can accommodate as many as 15 and even up to 40 babies, are not air-conditioned, have fewer windows than what most homes would have, and windows that only partially open. (See the Baby Proof Your Home Safety Guide to learn about safe room temperature for sleeping).
This is concerning but it is also encouraging to see how early childhood services and teachers are responding to the hot weather and implementing lots of good strategies to keep everyone safe and reduce stress:
- Keeping everyone well-hydrated - cool water and cups always available for children and adults; ice-blocks; and fridge cooled and cut oranges, apples, melon … (note only for older children as cut fruit is a choking hazard for infants)
- Cold cloths for placing on the back of the neck, forehead, wrists
- Swimming and water play - sprinklers, water spray bottles and water guns, foot spas and water games such as basins of water for children to dip their feet in and pick up small toys with their toes
- Keeping out of direct sunlight and playing and working under shade outdoors
- Endless hours of fun in the sandpit, with water buckets and hose, and under shade
- Staying out of rooms with appliances emitting heat – such as the laundry
- Not doing cooking that requires using an oven
- Enabling air movement, e.g. by opening windows and doors for cross breeze, using standing fans (being mindful of electrical cord safety) and wall fans
- Lowering expectations for physical activity and providing more activities for fine rather than gross motor movement
- Supporting children to eat healthily and light
- Ensuring clothing that is light and does not stick to the skin – cotton fabric
- At sleep times, taking clothes off and leaving nappies or underwear on only. No blankets and a light cotton sheet at most only (not tucked in)
- Putting children down for naps / sleeps outdoors in the shade where and when practicable
- Fencing off or encouraging children to keep off artificial grass and playground surfaces (such as slides) that can become hot and even result in burning if touched.
Regulations / Legal requirements
Skimping on costs by not turning on fans and air-conditioning can have serious consequences for children and adults, and service owners and managers could find themselves breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act if anyone experiences ill effects of inadequate temperature control. A key purpose of the Act is “protecting workers and other persons against harm to their health, safety and welfare by eliminating or minimising risks arising from work.”
A maximum temperature is not prescribed under the early childhood regulations in NZ. A minimum temperature for indoor rooms that children occupy only is specified (see details about regulations on maximum and minimum room temperature on the My ECE website).
In Australia, where outdoor temperatures of 30 degrees plus can be routinely experienced the national education and care regulations require services to have adequate shaded areas to protect children from overexposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun (penalty AUD$1,000) and ensure that the indoor spaces used by children are well ventilated and are maintained at a temperature that ensures the safety and wellbeing of all children (penalty AUD $2,000). Australian early childhood centres, such as Broadbeach Kindy have outdoor areas with lots of natural shade.
Personal factors that can affect how hot a child or adult feels
Look out especially for the wellbeing of children and adults who are overweight, are less fit, or on some medications as these personal factors can affect how a child or adult feels and the effects of heat.
Signs to look out for
It is the managers’ responsibility to ensure that those caring for children know how to recognise and treat the ill effects of heat on children and when to get medical assistance quickly. Signs to look out for include:
- changes in breathing patterns
- increased irritability
- quick onset of fatigue/ Weakness
- heavy sweating
Further information and resources you will find useful