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Teachers put heat on government

Monday, 27th June, 2011

RUGGED UP: Alma teachers Allan Johnston, David Mortimer and Jenni Baker used blankets to show the need to replace unflued gas heaters. RUGGED UP: Alma teachers Allan Johnston, David Mortimer and Jenni Baker used blankets to show the need to replace unflued gas heaters.

Schools across NSW have turned off their heaters and used blankets to highlight the Government’s “lack of action” on unflued gas heaters in classrooms.

Teachers at Alma Public School took part in ‘Blanket Day’ on Friday and the NSW Teachers Federation Officer for Broken Hill region, Brett Bertalli, said many schools across the State held activities to focus on the need for unflued gas heaters to be replaced.

“For more than 20 years, successive governments have known that these heaters pose health risks and have taken no action,” Mr Bertalli said.

Last year a report from the Woolcock Institute, commissioned by the Department of Education, said “it is important to seek alternative sources of heating that do not pose health risks.”

Despite this, the heaters were removed from only 101 schools, Mr Bertalli said.

He said the Department of Health website has also warned about the “potential health effects associated with the use of unflued gas heaters.”

“Teachers of Broken Hill are concerned for the health and safety of their students and have welcomed the announcement that no more unflued gas heaters will be installed in new classrooms, but this announcement will do nothing for the hundreds of students and teachers in Broken Hill public schools currently choosing between the use of the dangerous heaters and freezing classroom conditions,” Mr Bertalli said.

Alma Teachers Federation Representative, David Mortimer, said teachers wanted their students to have the best learning conditions and they deserved to have safe heating.

The Asthma Foundation NSW also joined forces with the Teacher’s Federation, the Green Party and local Blue Mountains pressure group C.O.U.G.H. for “Blanket Day”, launching a campaign showing children who have been affected by the heaters.

However, a Department of Education and Communities spokesman said it was disappointing that students were being drawn into the industrial action.

“The Federation is aware that the changeover of school heaters is occurring in a phased way, as they were part of the committee deciding which schools in the coldest parts of the state would be the first to have the new heaters installed,” the spokesman said.

“Heaters have been installed at those schools and further phases of the program will be announced later this year.”

The spokesman said NSW Health had advised that unflued gas heaters were safe for use in classrooms and other parts of school as long as proper ventilation procedures were followed. He said all gas heaters were inspected annually.

The Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, was unavailable for comment.


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