AEU Policy on Extreme Temperatures
The AEU believes that members have a right to decline to teach in situations where classroom temperatures are lower than 17 degrees Celsius or more than 30 degrees Celsius. The Work Safety Bill 2008 makes it legal to refuse to work on the grounds of a “reasonable belief that the work involves a significant risk to work safety.”
AEU ACT Branch Policy: Occupational Health and Safety - Physical Conditions in Schools (Download PDF)
1. The AEU believes that members have a right to decline to teach in situations where classroom temperatures are lower than 17 degrees Celsius or more than 30 degrees Celsius.
2. Whenever physical conditions become distressing to students and intolerable to staff:
(a) members should advise the OH&S representative;
(b) the OH&S Representative should immediately consult with the Principal/manager of the site and verify the actual temperature of the location;
(c) the OH&S Representative, with the support of the AEU Sub-Branch, should request appropriate action be taken to rectify the situation. This action may include implementing procedures for the relocation or cancellation of classes.
(d) the OH&S representative or the Sub-Branch may at any time seek the involvement of the AEU officers to assist in rectifying the situation.
The Australian Standard [AS 1837 – 1976] for an office environment recommends a 20 degrees minimum and 26 degrees maximum.
Schools need to develop an agreed process, in advance of cold/hot periods, to be followed to ensure a safe working environment for yourselves and your students because extreme temperatures can be OHS issue. Below is a stepped process for you to adapt to meet your responsibilities under the Work Safety Act 2008, to make your workplace as safe as reasonably practicable, a shared responsibility.
1. Have a thermometer in every classroom, gymnasium, hall, common area and office.
2. OHS Rep and Deputy OHS Rep meet with principal to develop or review contingency plans to manage work and students safely on days of extreme temperatures.
3. In advance of hot/cold periods or on the first hot/cold day send a note home to parents to recommend they keep their child/ren home on days of extreme temperatures, and/or inform them of reduced/modified learning arrangements the school will take on days of extreme heat or cold.
4. Implement the contingency plan/s. If the plans are inadequate for the conditions faced, contact the parents and advise them to collect their children if possible.
5. Lodge a Hazard Notice (forms can be accessed at http://sharedservices/actgovt/WHS/default.htm under 'forms' or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org). That must be lodged by the OHS Rep and may be done electronically. Lodge it with Shared Services [Injury Prevention], the Principal, ACT Workcover and forward a copy to the AEU.
6. If there is no action generated by the lodgement of the Hazard Notice advance to the next stage.
7. Exercise your right to refuse to work under the new Work Safety Bill 2008 Division 3.4 s.42 on the grounds of your “reasonable belief that the work involves a significant risk to work safety.” That applies to your safety and that of your students. The principal may ask you to relocate your classes to another area or outside and that is reasonable as long as those areas fall within the temperature ranges as indicated in the AEU ACT Branch Policy (above). If all teachers and students are equally at risk then the principal must implement the whole school risk management plan.
8. If there is a failure by ETD to address the Hazard Notice, the next step is to lodge a Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN). That notice names the Principal and Director-General as persons responsible and should be sent to both of them, to Shared Services and ACT Workcover. The PIN form and information is accessible on the WorkSafe ACT website:
Contact the AEU ACT office for assistance with the completion and filing of the PIN.