Regulation 10 of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 specifies that rooms where employees work should have sufficient space. The accompanying Approved Code of Practice specifies that if the volume of an empty workroom (disregarding any height above three metres) is divided by the number of employees normally working there, the minimum acceptable result is 11 cubic metres per employee. If the room contains a lot of furniture, this minimum may not be sufficient.
Unfortunately, as the 11 cubic metres rule does not apply to "rooms being used for lectures, meetings and similar purposes", pupils in classrooms are excluded. In ATL's view, if regulation 10 was applicable to classrooms, it would enhance the environment for both pupils and teachers.
This does not mean that there is no legislation that supports the need for sufficient space in schools and colleges. Under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974, employers are required to ensure that visitors to their premises - which include pupils and students in schools and colleges - are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
Exposing children to overcrowded classrooms in which they cannot be supervised properly could amount to a breach of the employer's statutory duties.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also oblige employers to carry out risk assessments, which involve a careful examination of what work activities could cause harm to people, so that the employer can weigh up whether adequate precautions are in place.
In particular, members who teach practical subjects such as design technology and the sciences, where pupils use tools or machinery, often have concerns relating to health and safety. This is particularly the case when working in classrooms built some years ago to accommodate smaller groups. Members in this situation are advised to report their concerns in writing to the headteacher and request that a risk assessment be carried out.
Members who are concerned that an overcrowded classroom has given rise to a hazardous or unsafe situation should seek advice from ATL (see contact details below).