As winter approaches, staff and students will be spending more time indoors. Ventilating indoor work areas, whilst at the same time ensuring a comfortable working temperature, will become more and more challenging.
Heating standards for schools
Until October 2012, legal requirements which specified the minimum temperatures which had to be maintained in school classrooms were set out in the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1999.
These regulations provided that, in areas where there was a normal level of physical activity associated with teaching, the appropriate minimum temperature was 18ºC (64.4ºF). In areas where there was a lower than normal level of activity (eg sick rooms) or higher than normal level of activity (eg gymnasia and also washrooms), the appropriate minimum temperatures were 21ºC and 15ºC respectively. These regulations were replaced on 31 October 2012 by the School Premises (England) Regulations 2012. These regulations do not specify minimum temperatures for any parts of a school. Despite removal of this regulation, the NEU position remains that temperatures in school classrooms should be at least 18ºC (64.4ºF).
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which apply to all workplaces, including schools, set out requirements on minimum temperatures in workplaces. Regulation 7 requires that temperatures shall be “reasonable” and the accompanying Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) defines this as "normally at least 16°C" (60°F) during “the length of time people are likely to be there”. Although this is lower than the minimum temperature previously required by the Education (School Premises) Regulations, it applies to non-teaching areas as well as classrooms.
There are no legally prescribed maximum temperatures for school premises or other workplaces. The Workplace Regulations and accompanying ACoP require, however, that all reasonable steps are taken to achieve a reasonably comfortable temperature by, where necessary, special ventilation measures including provision for fans.
The Workplace Regulations also require that a sufficient number of thermometers should be available, at a convenient distance from any part of the workplace, to enable temperatures to be measured in any part of the workplace. They do not require a thermometer to be provided in every room. Please note that alcohol, liquid crystal strips and digital thermometers can lose accuracy over time and should be used as a general guide. We recommend taking several classroom readings with a digital thermometer, including the official school one, before initiating any action.
The School Premises (England) 2012 Regulations include provisions relating to risks from hot water. Regulation 9 provides that the temperature of hot water at the point of use must not pose a scalding risk. Guidance to this regulation sets out that, to avoid the risk of scalding, it is good practice to ensure hot water does not exceed 43°C.
The NEU does not expect its members to continue to work in situations in which the legal requirements concerning the health, safety and welfare of employees and others are not being met.
In dealing with heating problems, reference may be made to regulation 7 of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 which places a statutory duty upon employees to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and others. This duty may require teachers to withdraw themselves and their pupils from situations in which the physical conditions may affect the health and safety of themselves and their pupils.
The type of heating problems occurring in school usually fall into one of three categories:
- longstanding faults
- temporary faults, which may or may not be capable of being remedied quickly
- problems caused by policies on operation of heating systems.
In general, the employer remains responsible for providing funds for replacement of heating systems which have reached the end of their useful life and for emergency replacement of heating systems. Under local management, funding for general maintenance of heating systems, including replacement of defective parts, forms part of schools’ delegated budgets.
Nevertheless, employers retain legal responsibility for the health and safety of employees and others on the premises such as pupils, and also retain the power to arrange for work to be carried out in schools which is necessary for health and safety reasons, and to charge schools’ delegated budgets accordingly.
Head teachers are responsible for the internal organisation and management of schools. They have the power to act in emergencies, including by deciding to close all or part of schools in the case of heating system failures. Where such decisions are taken, adequate notice of closures should be given to parents. Pupils should be given letters to parents informing them that closures will continue until adequate heating has been restored. Closing schools will not, however, usually be possible on the first day of heating failures since adequate notice to parents will not be possible.
Many problems result from longstanding faults or inadequacies in school heating systems which local authorities/academy trusts or governing bodies are unable or unwilling to replace or repair. Where such faults exist, the following steps should be taken:
- The matter should be raised with the head teacher and information sought on the action proposed by the employer to repair or upgrade the heating system.
- Temperatures should be monitored in any classroom or other area with heating problems on a twice daily basis at the same time each day in order to provide evidence of the problem.
- If the school employer is unwilling to accept that difficulties exist or seeks to argue that they are unable to take action on financial or other grounds, the NEU should be contacted for assistance.
- Where temperatures are consistently below the levels required by law, the head teacher should take appropriate action to ensure that teachers, support staff and pupils are not required to work in inappropriately heated areas. Such action might include bringing in temporary heating sources, rearranging timetabling in order to move classes, or closing all or part of the school.
The NEU does not regard the use of temporary portable heaters as an appropriate solution other than as a genuinely temporary measure in emergency situations while action is being taken to repair the heating system. Portable gas heaters should not be used where other temporary heating systems are available which do not pose health and safety risks from fumes, fire hazards etc. Where such heaters are provided in the absence of any other temporary heating system, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on the safe use and storage of portable gas heaters should be followed.
Sudden temporary faults
Where sudden faults or failures arise with heating systems, the NEU safety rep should ensure that the head teacher has firstly taken action to ensure that the system is repaired as quickly as possible and, secondly, given consideration to appropriate additional measures to be implemented until the system is repaired. Again, such measures might include bringing in temporary heating sources, rearranging timetabling in order to move classes, or closing all or part of the school.
Where temporary faults occur which can be resolved within 24 hours, school closure will, as noted above, in most cases be impossible since there will be no opportunity to provide notice of closure to parents. Other appropriate action may be possible, which may include closing those parts of schools most severely affected, rearranging timetabling or bringing in temporary heating sources.
The NEU advises against the use of portable gas heaters unless no other temporary heating system is available.
Problems caused by the employers heating policies
In some cases problems are encountered due to inadequate levels of heating caused by employer policies designed to save heating costs. These can include turning down boiler temperatures at all times; switching systems off when pupils leave; and extending Christmas holidays so that schools do not have to be heated during this period. Any policy that leads to inadequate levels of heating is unacceptable.
For more information about classroom temperature, including the HSE guidance on the safe use and storage of portable gas heaters, please download the ‘Heating in classrooms – England' guidance.