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 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.
Employers retain legal responsibility for the health and safety of employees, pupils and others on the premises; 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. Closing schools will not usually be possible on the first day of heating failures since adequate notice to parents cannot be given in time.
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 argues that they are unable to act on financial or other grounds, contact the NEU 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.
The NEU does not regard the use of temporary portable heaters as an appropriate solution other than as a temporary measure in an emergency while the heating system is repaired. Portable gas heaters should not be used if other temporary heating systems are available because of the health and safety risks from fumes, fire hazards etc. If portable gas heaters have to be used, follow Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on the safe use and storage of portable gas heaters.
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, considered appropriate additional measures until the system is repaired (as above).
Where temporary faults occur which can be resolved within 24 hours, again school closure will in most cases be impossible but other appropriate action could 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 employer’s heating policies
Sometimes problems arise due to inadequate levels of heating caused by employer policies designed to save heating costs. Any policy that leads to inadequate levels of heating is unacceptable.