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Health and safety
02 November 2016
Employers are under a general duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare of employees, so far as is reasonably practicable. This requirement extends to protecting employees and others from temperature extremes.

Cold temperatures

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 stipulate that during working hours, temperatures in workplaces (including maintained and independent schools, and FE colleges) should be reasonable. The employer must provide a suitable number of thermometers to enable the temperature to be checked throughout the workplace.

As far as maintained schools in England and Wales are concerned, the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999 prescribe minimum standards for temperatures (which should be measured at 0.5 metres above floor level) as follows:

Use of area Minimum temperature
Lower than normal level of physical activity, eg sick rooms 21°C
Normal level of physical activity, eg classrooms and libraries 18°C
Higher than normal levels of physical activity, eg gyms and drama workshops 15°C

ATL considers that classrooms should be at least 18°C (even though the Approved Code of Practice to the regulations states a normal temperature for workplaces of at least 16°C), as children are less able to withstand low temperatures than adults.

Where the temperature in a room used for teaching falls significantly below the above standards, ATL members are advised to notify their headteacher/principal and to request that a warmer room or that extra heating be provided.

Extra heaters

Electric convector heaters are preferred for supplementary or emergency heating, provided there are sufficient electrical circuits. Calor gas heaters are a possible alternative, provided strict safety precautions are in force. The room must be adequately ventilated. Fuel for the heater must be stored outside the building. Guards should be placed around the heaters to prevent pupils from touching them. Heaters must not block fire escape routes. The lighting and control of heaters, as well as the changing of cylinders, must be undertaken by a trained, authorised person.

ATL members are advised against bringing their own portable heating appliances into their workplaces.

Closure due to cold temperatures

If satisfactory arrangements cannot be made to provide adequate heating, consideration should be given to closure. A decision can be made by the headteacher/principal to send pupils home if appropriate, but the headteacher/principal cannot be compelled to close the school by the advice, vote or decision of the staff.

Parents would have to be given notice in writing of a closure. At least 24 hours' notice is reasonable in primary schools, as immediate closure could create risks to safety at unsupervised road crossings or in empty homes, which are more dangerous to children than low temperatures.

Staff are only entitled to leave the workplace immediately if they are being exposed to "serious, imminent and unavoidable danger", eg fire or explosion. This action would therefore not be appropriate where there is a dispute about temperature in the workplace. Staff can be required to attend work even if the school/college is closed to students, provided that arrangements have been made to adequately heat the rooms they occupy.

If a proposal of closure is rejected and staff are directed to work on regardless of temperatures that are significantly below the statutory minimum, members should contact ATL (see below).

High temperatures

There is no prescribed maximum temperature for educational establishments or any other workplace. The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require employers to take all reasonable steps to ensure that a "comfortable" temperature is maintained. However, the World Health Organization says that, in temperate climates, the optimum indoor temperature is between 18°C and 24°C. ATL safety reps can use these figures to negotiate better standards.

Workplaces must be sufficiently well-ventilated by fresh or purified air. The supply of fresh air should not normally be below 5-8 litres per second, per occupant, according to the Approved Code of Practice to those regulations.

Under the Education (School Premises) Regulations there should be at least three litres of fresh air, per second, for each of the usual number of persons accommodated in that area. On very hot days, this should be increased to eight litres per second for each of the usual number of people in those areas.

Special consideration should be given to pregnant or menopausal workers and those whose medical conditions place them at higher risk when there are extremes in temperatures.

See also