Know your rights

24th January 2003 at 00:00
You don't have to put up with a workplace that blows hot and cold, reports Susannah Kirkman

Those of you who spent the recent cold snap huddled next to the school radiators may take comfort from regulations which say that workplaces must be heated to a "reasonable temperature".

Nor do you have to suffer in silence if colleagues are polluting the atmosphere by puffing away in the staffroom; the Workplace (Health and Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 protect non-smokers from the discomfort and health risks caused by tobacco smoke.

Extremes in temperature can affect your concentration and your health. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1992 say that employers must consider the hazards of working in extreme temperatures, assess the risk and take preventative measures. Theyare obliged to provide sufficient thermometers for the temperature to be measured effectively.

A "reasonable" temperature for adults is 16C, according to health and safety regulations. But in maintained schools the temperatures should be higher, state the Education (School Premises) regulations of 1992. Children are less able to withstand low temperatures than adults, so classrooms should be no colder than 18C. In sickrooms, where there is less activity, the temperature should be 21C, but in gyms and drama workshops it can fall to 15C.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers advises teachers to inform their head when temperatures fall below the recommended levels. Staff should request that extra heating be provided. Electric convector heaters are acceptable, but gas heaters can be more hazardous than cool temperatures.

If these are used, the room must be adequately ventilated, fuel must be stored outside the building and guards placed around the fires to prevent pupils from touching them. Heaters must not block fire escape routes and cylinders must be changed by a "trained, authorised person".

The ATL suggests that the headteacher should consider closing the school if temperatures fall uncomfortably below the statutory minimum.

In sweltering summer temperatures (remember those?), there are no prescribed maximum temperatures for schools, unlike in Germany, where the pupils are sent home if the thermometer rises above 21C by 10am.

Employers here have to take reasonable steps to ensure that a "comfortable" temperature is maintained.This could be by using blinds, working away from hot areas, using fans and increasing ventilation. Workplaces must be adequately ventilated; if opening windows doesn't do the trick, try using extractor fans.

Employers also have a duty to shield staff from health hazards such as smoking. As passive smoking can cause lung cancer and aggravate asthma, the Health and Safety Executive has introduced a code of practice to guide employers on their legal obligations. Initiatives could include a complete or partial ban on smoking in the workplace, the segregation of non-smokers - perhaps a separate staff room - and increased ventilation.

A powerful incentive for introducing policies on smoking is that employers are vulnerable to claims for damages if an employee's health has suffered.

Employees can also claim for constructive and unfair dismissal if they are forced to resign rather than tolerate a dense fug.

Further information: pay_and_conditions

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