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Hospital’s aircon ‘a risk’ to health and wellbeing

Two years after Wairarapa District Health Board [DHB] deemed hospital temperatures a “static risk”, no changes to airconditioning have been made as the region moves into a hotter-than-usual summer.
A DHB board paper from November 2020 said that high temperatures were a risk to health and wellbeing of staff and patients during the summer months.
It said the risk was due to “ineffective engineering controls to mitigate to an acceptable level in buildings with no air-conditioning”.
The risk was defined as static because it was unlikely to change.
Wairarapa is forecast to have another hot summer, but Te Whatu Ora Wairarapa interim district director Dale Oliff did not say if upgrading air conditioning was a priority for the hospital.
National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research [Niwa] said Wairarapa’s temperature usually peaked at 30 degrees Celsius in January, and this coming summer there was a 95 per cent chance temperatures would be at or above average.
Oliff said the most populated areas of the hospital were designed for natural cross-flow ventilation. In other words, “opening the windows”.
She said the medical-surgical ward, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation ward, paediatrics, and maternity were all ventilated with fresh air provided through open windows.
Oliff said there were no immediate capital expenditure bids or funding for additional air conditioning to be placed in sleeping areas.
The Times-Age reported in January last year that when the hospital was built, it was designed to have natural airflow, rather than installed air conditioning.
Management blocks and mental health blocks did not have air conditioning but did have ceiling fans, portable fans and natural airflow, a DHB spokesperson said in 2021.
There was no aircon or ventilation in staff offices, communal areas, corridor accessways and some patient rooms.
Oliff said the most recent installation was split unit air conditioners in the northern aspect of the medical surgical ward, paediatric rooms, and maternity rooms before 2021.
When the static risk was identified in 2021, a spokesperson said there were no plans to install air conditioning in current buildings.
“When the hospital was built, the clinical areas were designed to maximise natural cross-flow ventilation and no forced air ventilation was installed.”
“The age and style of some buildings, including management offices situated in the old nurse’s home, mean that the cost of adding air conditioning is prohibitive,” the spokesperson said.
Health and safety regulator Worksafe said high temperatures were a risk to employees, as they could lead to thermal discomfort or thermal stress.
“While a work environment that causes thermal discomfort may not directly cause illness or injury, it does have many disadvantages.
“Workers can feel tired and irritable, they may be less productive and make more mistakes with their work, there’s a greater risk of someone making a mistake that could result in an accident.”
Worksafe said when external temperatures became too high, people’s bodies could begin to struggle to maintain a stable temperature, leading to heat or cold-related illness or injury.
It said heat-related illnesses could include headaches, dizziness, increased heart rate, dehydration, fainting, heat rashes, muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.
WorkSafe currently has no open investigations into hospital temperature concerns, but expected employers to take reasonable action to manage such risks arising from their work.
It said workplace temperatures for sedentary work should be kept between 19 and 24 degrees Celsius in summer, and for physical work, should be kept between 16 and 21 degrees Celsius.

Helen Holt
Helen Holt
Helen Holt is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age and enjoys reporting on a variety of topics, regularly covering Wairarapa events, tourism, local businesses, and the occasional health story.

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