Liability for Schools: Heat Stress Illness is Fatal to Student Athletes


  • Heat stress is a major cause of concern for student athletes, and sadly claims the lives of some student athletes. Schools, athletic trainers, and coaches are liable when it comes to protecting students from the dangers of heat stress illness.

 

  • Learn how to keep your students safe from the perils of extreme heat by practicing heat stress safety. Our heat stress safety solutions can help keep schools compliant with heat related policies.

 

Are schools liable for heat stress illness and fatalities of student athletes?

Schools are responsible for ensuring the heat safety of student athletes. While summer is coming to a close, the fall sports season still produces incredibly high temperatures as student athletes practice outdoors. Student athletes that are exposed to extreme heat face life-threatening danger— exertional heat tress, hyperthermia, heat stress illness, and death. Schools, coaches, and trainers are liable for illnesses and deaths attributed to exertional heat stress. There has been increasing incidences of student athletes dying due to heat stress during sporting practices.

Consequently, there has also been increased reporting of schools and coaches being sued and criminally charged as being responsible for these students’ deaths. These sad events are a testament that schools need to take heat stress safety seriously.

With the help of Earth Networks’ severe weather safety solutions, liable parties can minimize their burden by accurately knowing when to stop practices and games due to heat stress.

Schools are responsible for heat safety amongst student athletes

Heat stress safety is critically important for student athletes who are exposed to high temperatures while performing strenuous physical activity. Schools, coaches, and athletic trainers have a responsibility to effectively monitor heat stress in student athletes. As aforementioned, there has been a rise of incidents of schools and coaches being sued and even criminally charged with being responsible for student deaths. A 16-year-old student athlete died in Clayton County, Georgia while performing high-intensity workout drills in 97 degree heat. A medical autopsy revealed that Imani Bell suffered a heart attack as a result of extreme temperature and heat illness. Imani Bell died from hyperthermia, also known as heat stroke. Imani’s coaches were recently charged with murder, cruelty to children, involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct.

According to the CDC, heat-related illnesses can include heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, sunburn, and heat rash. These heat-related illnesses can lead to organ failure. When extreme temperatures are present, it is essential that schools and athletic teams implement heat stress safety measures to reduce the risk of injury or death. Schools and faculty absorb a personal liability in athletic safety choices, and it is ultimately the responsibility of schools and athletic trainers to keep students safe from heat stress.

Laws for heat stress safety: Zachary Martin Act Athlete Safety Bill

The state of Florida enacted the Zachary Martin Act in response to the 2017 death of a Lee County high school football player who passed during practice due to heat stroke.  The two main components of the law include monitoring heat stress with the use of WBGT, as well as AED requirements. The Zachary Martin Act requires defibrillators and immersion tubs to be at every practice, game, and workout. The law provides Florida high schools with policies to protect the health and safety of high schoolers while participating in clubs and sports year-round.

Utilizing WBGT forecasting to make the call on heat stress safety for athletes

Below you can explore our interactive map of state-mandated heat management policies. Click each state to learn more.


Earth Networks’ heat stress safety solutions can help take the burden off schools, and bring them into compliance with heat related policies, where they exist, or be proactive where there are no heat policies. Heat stress safety is critical for protecting students athletes during extreme temperatures.

Heat stress safety is not only relevant to Southern states, but it is crucial for every state. This summer was particularly hot, with rising temperatures across the Western portion of the United States. NOAA reported a record-breaking June 2021, with heatwaves drastically impacting the West, as illustrated below:

How can you monitor dangerous temperatures to prevent heat stress illness? One effective way is using Wet Bulb Globe Temperature, otherwise referred to as WBGT. The National Weather Service defines wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) as an apparent measurement used to estimate the most accurate level of heat stress in direct sunlight. WBGT considers five factors, including:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Wind Speed
  • Sun angle
  • Cloud cover (solar radiation)

 

Schools can reduce the liability of making the wrong call by using WBGT forecasting to decide when temperatures are too high for students to continue playing. Consequently, schools can reduce the burden of violating heat related policies, and endangering students’ lives.

With real-time alerting, dangerous temperatures can be monitoring on-site at locations when practice is happening. Watch the video below to learn how to monitor WBGT using Earth Networks’ weather station and Sferic Maps, which provides real-time weather alerts and situational awareness for dangerous weather:

How can schools use the WBGT Forecast?

When enabled, the WBGT Forecast is available in the Online Weather Center, and is accessible via Sferic Maps, which provides real-time weather alerts and storm tracking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Online Weather Center now shows the WBGT Forecast for Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach, FL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hourly Forecast pictured above shows the WBGT Forecast for Suncoast High School.

In the News: Students are at risk for heat stress illness while schools face liability

Anyone who is exposed to extreme, hot temperatures while outdoors is at risk for heat stress. Student athletes are particularly at risk for heat-related illness or death when their physical activity conditions are not being monitored.  Joshua Ivory Jr. played for Southwest High School in Macon Georgia. He was a 15-year-old high school football player who sadly died this summer after collapsing during the first practice of the season. The medical emergency took place during the first practice of the season for schools statewide, on a day that reached 97 degrees.

Improving WBGT and Heat Stress regulations to reduce the burden of heat-stress compliance for schools

Heat-related illnesses and deaths continue to plague student athletes because of a lack of accurate WBGT readings, faulty handheld equipment, manual alerts, and human error. The lack of comprehensive monitoring, forecasting, and alerting systems leave vulnerabilities in heat policies.

How can you protect students with WBGT?

  • Real-time WBGT readings
  • Hyperlocal forecasts
  • Automated mass alerts from an on-site weather station

Components of Earth Networks’ Heat Stress Solutions

Earth Networks suggests three primary steps for combatting heat stress with the use of WBGT— monitoring, alerting, and responding.

How can schools mitigate the risk of heat stress? Forecasting and real-time alerting are dependable resources for monitoring unsafe temperatures for athletic activity.

Our weather tools will enable you to implement a comprehensive heat stress safety plan with the most advanced wet bulb globe temperature technology and automated mass alerts. These proactive steps will prevent student athletes from falling ill due to heat stress, for which schools are responsible.

These methods will ensure everyone is on the same page and following the best practices towards acclimatizing and protecting student athletes in dangerous environmental conditions.

Forecast WBGT is also very useful for the purpose of planning practices. Coaches and athletic trainers can pragmatically base practice times around the WBGT forecast for things such as knowing when to give players break times, when players should spend time removing pads, when to change field locations, etc.

The WBGT Forecast can be used to plan your outdoor activities. WGBT is a proactive heat safety management tool— You don’t have to wait until conditions are dangerous to take action. The WBGT Forecast can be used in the following ways:

  • Reschedule athletic practice to a cooler time/date
  • Move activities indoors
  • Plan extra rest and hydration breaks
  • Modify conditioning drills or exercises to be less strenuous
  • Remove pads and other athletic clothing

With well-defined protocol and mass alerts, schools, districts, counties, and states are best equipped to plan and adjust athletic activities and safeguard their greatest assets: The students.

Real-time monitoring and alerting for heat stress safety

Earth Networks offers real-time weather alerts for situational awareness, that can help coaches and athletic trainers know when to end outdoor activity due to high temperatures. Sferic Maps is a tool that provides personalized real-time weather alerts to manage athletic operations at schools. Real-time monitoring and alerting for dangerously high temperatures is imperative for schools that are liable for student safety. Up to the minute alerting allows athletic trainers to make the call to end physical activity in high temperatures at the exact time that conditions become unsafe. In turn, schools are able to responsibly uphold their accountability for student safety as it relates to heat stress illness and death.

The Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) Forecast displays a daily and hourly forecast value for WBGT at your weather station’s location, in the Online Weather Center (OWC), which is a function of Sferic Maps. Through the OWC, schools, athletic trainers, and coaches have access to public WBGT readings  which enable the entire community to know the current and future forecast conditions.

Using WBGT for Post Event Analysis

In the unfortunate event that heat stress illness leads to a fatality for a student athlete, Earth Networks’ historical data can provide an auto-trail of weather data in the case of an incident. Historical data logging within Sferic Maps can also assist organizations that are liable for protecting students from heat stress.  Historical data leaves an audit trail in the case of a heat-stress related incident, and our historical data in Sferic Maps offers an easy post-incident analysis.

Schools can safely make the call with Earth Networks’ Heat Safety Package

Heat stress safety is critical for protecting student athletes and spectators from the heat. We can help keep any organization safe with our Earth Networks heat safety packages, which include WBGT Forecast. We will show you how to implement a comprehensive heat stress safety plan with the most advanced wet bulb globe temperature technology and automated mass alerts. Protecting students from the dangers of heat stress is a great responsibility, and our solutions can help ease the burden for schools and athletic trainers on the field.

Learn more about implementing WBGT for Student Heat Stress Safety

To learn more about our products and services, feel free to check out our resources page or reach out to our customer service team by contacting them below.

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