Monday, 23 June 2014

Don't Swelter in School !

The summer heatwave is finally upon us- but many teachers find themselves teaching in classrooms that are uncomfortably hot.  High classroom temperatures are a major health and safety issue, not just for NUT members but for the children we teach.

You may have been told that "there is no maximum classroom temperature in law."  While this is true in the sense that there is not a given figure (as there is for minimum temperatures)  there is a clear responsibility on employers under the law to ensure reasonable working temperatures.
  • The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their staff and others present in the workplace (e.g. pupils), thereby providing a need to seek to protect against excessive working temperatures.
  • Regulation 7 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 requires employers to ensure that temperatures in workplaces should be 'reasonable' although it does not specify a maximum reasonable temperature.
  • If people get too hot, they risk dizziness, fainting, or even heat cramps.  In very hot conditions the body’s blood temperature rises.  If the blood temperature rises above 39°C, there is a risk of heat stroke or collapse.  Delirium or confusion can occur above 41°C.  Blood temperatures at this level can prove fatal and even if people recover, they may suffer irreparable organ damage. Even at the lower temperatures likely to be experienced in classrooms, however, heat leads to a loss of concentration and increased tiredness, which means that teachers are more likely to put themselves or others at risk.
These legal requirements can be enforced by HSE health and safety inspectors who may issue legally binding notices to employers obliging them to comply with the requirements.

NUT policy, as agreed at Annual Conference 2007 (where it was proposed by Dave Brinson on behalf of the Lewes, Eastbourne and Wealden Association) , is that 26°C should be the absolute maximum temperature in which teachers should be expected to work, other than for very short periods.  It is important that all schools have in place contingency plans to help staff and pupils cope with the heat.  There is little that can be done to alleviate particular problems if schools do not plan in advance and also take note of the weather forecast for the week ahead.

What can my school do ?

The following measures could be implemented by schools to address the health and safety issues of high temperature:

  • Redesigning the work area: Often simply moving people away from windows, or reducing heat gain by installing reflective film or blinds to windows can be a very effective way of keeping a workplace cooler.
  • The  installation of fans or natural ventilation: Providing fans or windows that open can also help staff and pupils to cool down, although both these become less effective at higher temperatures.  Portable air-cooling cabinets are also available, which are much more effective.
  • Curtailing of certain heat-generating activities, for example, use of computers, Bunsen burners, ovens, design and technology equipment, strenuous physical activity in PE lessons etc; unless effective heat extraction measures can be put in place.
  • Provision of water coolers, and  permission to be given for pupils to drink water in classrooms.  (The NUT is in fact in favour of this at all times of the year).
  • Reallocation of classes to cooler rooms whenever possible.
  • Relaxation of dress codes for staff and pupils.
  • Ensuring that windows can be safely opened.
  • Installation of blinds and/or reflective film on windows.
  • Use of portable air conditioning units in the worst affected classrooms/staff room (although these can be noisy).
  • Provision of suitably-sized fans for those rooms which are not so badly affected.
  • Timetabling sports days for earlier in the summer term.
  • Consideration of the needs of pregnant teachers who will feel the effects of the heat more acutely than anyone else and may, for example, need to be excused playground duty.
  • Starting and finishing school early, provided that adequate notice has been given to parents.
The requirement to take ‘all reasonable steps’ means that employers cannot use cost as an excuse, other than where the measures would be disproportionately expensive.  In the longer term, schools should also consider: 
  • Development of shady areas over time, either through planting of trees or the construction of shelters in playgrounds.
  • Introducing a properly designed air conditioning system into the building: In some buildings this is not possible, either because of the age or type of the building, or because of planning restrictions.  A properly maintained air conditioning system is a very effective way of reducing temperatures.  However, air conditioning systems are expensive and do use a very high level of power and other, more environmentally friendly, solutions should also be considered.
If you are experiencing problems with excessive classroom temperature, your NUT Rep, or NUT Health and Safety rep should make representations to the Head Teacher straight away- in the knowledge that they are backed by both their Union and the law !   You can also contact the East Sussex NUT Office on 01323 643770 or by email.

You can read the full NUT Briefing on High Classroom Temperatures by clicking here.

If your school does not have an NUT Health and Safety Rep, why not consider becoming one ?  Health and Safety reps have a range of roles and powers protected by law, and a statutory right to paid time off for training- which is provided free of charge by the Union. Contact us for more information. 

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