The UK has endured some scorching temperatures over the last few weeks and hot summers bring uncertainty around the maximum temperatures in which pupils and teachers should be expected to work. Here, we outline the legalities surrounding this issue as we prepare for a sizzling few months
While it’s common for people in the UK to complain about the lack of hot and sunny weather, it’s clear to see roles have reversed in recent months, and as temperatures have hit 34 degrees in some parts of the country, one question has been at the top of the minds of many teachers and students; what are the legalities surrounding education and work in such high temperatures?
While there is no concrete law for minimum or maximum temperatures, there are talks of this following on from June’s heatwave, but until – and if – such laws are put into place, it’s important for educators and employers to know what steps and methods can and should be taken to ensure classroom and working environments are reasonable in which to work…
According to the NUT (National Union of Teachers), the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their staff and others present in the workplace, thereby providing protection against excessive working temperatures. Of course, in this section of Sussex Business Times, we’re not just speaking of employees and workers, but of pupils too, but given that they are undergo similar, extreme weather conditions, they should too be given exactly the same treatment and privileges – if you should call them that – if not more. Children, especially younger children, are likely to suffer more in in extreme heat and may not know exactly how to protect themselves from the risks it poses.
Regulation 7 of the Workplace Regulations 1992 also states that employers must ensure that temperatures in workplaces should be ‘reasonable’, although as mentioned earlier, it does not specify a maximum reasonable temperature.
So what is a ‘reasonable’ working temperature?
It’s common knowledge that incredibly high temperatures can affect the ability of both teachers and students – and any workers for that matter – and concentration levels are often at a low, meaning work is completed inefficiently and to a lower standard. With regards to teachers in particular, those who experience tiredness and loss of concentration due to overheating can also become a danger, with the ability to easily put themselves or others at risk. During these hot conditions, the body’s blood temperature rises and in addition to a loss in productivity, heatwaves can also cause a variety of illnesses and physical discomfort, ranging from dizziness, fainting, heat cramps and in some cases, even fits. When temperatures rise higher than ‘too high’ the risk of heat stroke and collapsing is heightened, and when blood temperatures rise above 41 degrees Celsius, delirium and confusion can easily occur.
Despite the lack of legalities in this sector of UK law, the World Health Organisation has recommended that 24 degrees Celsius is the maximum temperature for comfortable indoor working, with anything over 26 degrees Celsius being deemed unacceptable. Meanwhile, the TUC has called for a maximum temperature of 30 degrees.
Of course, while a large amount of readers will agree with these claims, there are some who will challenge the need for this, stating that in the world of full-time employment, for those who want to keep a steady income, work is crucial. For those completing strenuous work, or for those in an office without air conditioning, employment continues on a daily basis, and so the question remains: would incorporating a maximum temperature for school working be beneficial in fully preparing students for a life of full-time employment?
Either way, precautions should be taken, one of which would be to ensure all rooms in the building have a properly designed and installed air conditioning system. A properly maintained air conditioning system is a very effective way of reducing temperatures, although these systems are, more often than not, very expensive and aren’t particularly environmentally friendly. Also, in some buildings this method isn’t possible, either because of the age of the building or because of planning restrictions.
Alternatively, redesigning the work or education area and adding the installation of fans is another avenue to go down. Often simply moving people away from windows or reducing the rise in heat by installing reflective blinds to windows is another effective way of being precautious.
Equally, the installation of water coolers will provide students with unlimited access to hydration throughout the day – an incredibly vital element of staying healthy during the summer period. A large amount of schools and colleges will only allow students to drink outside a classroom or during given breaks, and so being more lenient by allowing students to drink bottled or cups of water during lesson will add to the list of successful methods to take.
If there’s one thing that school bodies are strict on with regards to their students and employees, it’s dress codes. Teachers are of course, expected to dress in a smart attire, and uniforms are compulsory for students. While some schools have a more casual uniform for their pupils – black trousers and polo tops – some enforce blazers and long sleeved shirts. Permitting a more laid back dress code for both teachers and students will allow them to keep cooler in such high temperatures. Even if it’s against school policy, it’s definitely something that should be considered!
The list could go on – sensible timetabling, starting and finishing school times, appropriate changes to school lunch menus – and each and every school body should ensure that at least some of these changes are enforced to ensure a productive and generally more ecthical educational environment as we head for an extremely hot summer in the UK.