Vulnerable populations

While anyone can be affected by extreme weather-related injuries, some population groups are more at risk than others – such as older people, children, people with disabilities, those with pre-existing or chronic health conditions, outdoor workers, and those with greater socioeconomic disadvantage. People in these groups may have reduced capacity to avoid or reduce the health impacts of extreme weather conditions, which can be described as thermal inequity.

Tanner et al. (2013) demonstrated that low income, poor-quality housing and fuel poverty (spending more than 10% of income on heating) are associated with adverse health and social outcomes related to cold weather. Exposure to and ability to cope with the risks of high temperatures is also subject to similar socioeconomic constraints (Byrne et al. 2016). Determinants of health, such as remoteness and socio-economic status also impact weather-related deaths and hospitalisations (Peden et al. 2023).

Outdoor workers are at increased risk of heatwave-related injury. Research on workers’ compensation and heatwave data in South Australia from 2003–2013 found an increase in claims and work-related ambulance call-outs in low and moderately severe heatwaves. Male workers had a 13% increase in claims during moderate severity heatwaves and those with less than one year of work experience had a 31% increase in claims during moderately intense heatwaves (Varghese et al. 2018). Increased injury hospitalisations and deaths among males of working age may reflect the preponderance of males among professions that labour outdoors (Figure 5Figure 6, Figure 8).