Industry response – FE News
The Met Office has extended a rare amber extreme heat warning, meaning there could be potential danger to life or serious illness, resulting from soaring temperatures. Already we are seeing more patients visiting A&E wards this week, with reports of heat stroke and severe dehydration across the country.
With temperatures likely to reach over 35C in the southeast on Monday, making it the hottest day of the year so far, the prospect of sitting in a classroom all day is not only unpleasant but potentially dangerous.
It is therefore important for schools to consider how hot it is and to take measures to protect students from the adverse consequences of the heat.
What are the symptoms of heat stress?
Working at high temperatures can lead to heat stress, which has several different symptoms. It can affect individuals in different ways and some people are more susceptible to it than others.
Some of the symptoms of heat stress include lack of concentration, muscle cramps, rashes, intense thirst/dehydration, fainting, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
What are the legal requirements of educational institutions?
There is no legal maximum temperature for sending children home. Instead, schools are required to follow the same guidelines given to all UK workplaces, which are set out by the government’s Health and Safety Executive. This states that temperatures must be kept within “reasonable” and “comfortable” limits and that employers must provide a constant flow of “clean, fresh air”, as well as access to plenty of water.
It is essential that employers respect their duty of care to all staff, carry out risk assessments where necessary and act accordingly to prevent staff from becoming ill or injured.
How to reduce the risk of heat stress?
High temperature can affect students’ ability to concentrate and can cause physical discomfort and illness. If students get too hot, they risk dizziness, fainting, dehydration, muscle cramps, or even heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Children, especially very young ones, cannot control their body temperature as effectively as adults, so they are more likely to suffer from extreme heat and may not know how to protect themselves.
As such, schools should err on the side of caution. I would advise teachers to relax uniform rules about long pants, blazers and ties for the duration of the heat wave, and encourage them to drink plenty of water throughout the day. If temperatures get too high in a particular school or classroom, then it would be a good idea to allow children to go home.
It is also important to take each child on a case-by-case basis. Children under the age of 4, as well as those who are overweight, disabled, or taking certain medications, may be more exposed to heat.
What are the potential consequences if students or staff feel unwell?
It should be remembered that employers have a legal obligation to ensure that their working environments are as safe as possible, which includes making reasonable judgment about temperatures. If an employer or educational institution neglects its responsibility and it results in discomfort or injury to someone, that person may be able to claim compensation.
Jonathan White, Legal and Compliance Director at National Accident Helpline
Commenting as the UK faces an orange alert heat wave next week, James Bowen, policy director of head teachers’ union NAHT, said:
“As temperatures continue to rise, school leaders will think carefully about how to keep students and staff safe and comfortable.
“Although there is no legal ‘upper limit’ for temperature in schools, they will certainly do everything they can to mitigate the effects of these high temperatures.
“For most, this will mean making simple adjustments such as limiting time in the sun during breaks, ensuring extra water is available, making adjustments to uniform expectations where appropriate, and ventilating classrooms. as best they can.
“Given that there is no specific upper limit for school temperatures, widespread closures seem unlikely at this stage. No school will want to close after their experiences during the pandemic, so this would be a last resort. Such a decision would only be taken if absolutely necessary for the safety of all involved and after a rigorous and thorough risk assessment.
“If, as it seems, hotter summers are going to become the norm, then the government really needs to think urgently about improving the condition of school buildings. As we have learned during the pandemic, too many are simply not fit for purpose, with even basic ventilation being a challenge in some cases. Classrooms with poor ventilation are not only unsuitable for work but, as we have seen, they are also an ideal environment for the transmission of viruses.
“Whether it’s air quality or extreme temperatures, you shouldn’t ask too much for school buildings that are conducive to learning all year round.
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