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Start the School Year Safely

By Ronald Hammond, Ph.D.
Product Manager, Physiology and Laboratory Safety


You want to maintain a well-managed classroom and student laboratory. The ideal time to assure a successful, mishap-free year of science teaching is before students return in the fall. I suggest beginning your school term with a thorough examination of your laboratory work and storage areas.

General housekeeping

  • Make sure eyewash stations, safety showers, fire extinguishers, and fire blankets are correctly positioned and in good working order.
  • Inventory all chemicals and other hazardous materials, ensuring that containers are labeled and stored properly.
  • Insist that only authorized personnel can access the storage area.
  • Dispose of outdated and unnecessary items as prescribed in their material safety data sheets (MSDS). Make current MSDS, for all chemicals, readily available for anybody requesting them.
  • Check personal protective equipment (PPE) to assure that goggles, gloves, and aprons are in serviceable condition and adequate for the number of students in your classes. Make sure that the goggle sterilization cabinet works correctly.

Plan ahead

Overcrowding, a tremendous problem in many schools, is exceptionally unfortunate for those who teach science. Laboratory accidents escalate dramatically when too many students attempt to work in a confined area. Give highest priority to reducing crowding in a student laboratory!

In addition, make science classrooms off-limits to non-science classes. Curious students cannot resist the wondrous things residing in science rooms. A science teacher should control these facilities at all times to prevent unfortunate occurrences.

If it’s not already scheduled, initiate a meeting of science teachers, the principal, and, if appropriate, the science supervisor. Review your school’s laboratory safety rules, making certain they conform to those mandated at district and state levels.

Safety checklist

Your safety requirements are unique to the grade level and specific activities in your classroom. However, primary laboratory safety rules for the school science program are reasonably generic and include the following:

  1. PPE is the accepted type for the activity and worn correctly at all times—by students and instructors.
  2. Hazardous materials show clear labels and reside in a well-secured area. Account for them meticulously at all times. Do not allow students to remove these materials from the lab.
  3. Laboratory working conditions are safe, with equipment on hand sufficient to deal with any potential extreme hazard or mishap.
  4. Provide proper equipment and supplies for students to use. Also provide instructions in laboratory technique and in handling materials before students conduct experiments.
  5. Supervise lab activities constantly. Students perform no unauthorized experiments. During inquiry-based activities, the teacher always approves student-designed experiments before they perform them.
  6. Students dress appropriately for the laboratory. This includes wearing the required PPE and NOT wearing certain types of personal apparel, including open-toed shoes, shirts with floppy sleeves, and shorts or short skirts. Long hair is tied back to keep it away from flames and chemicals.
  7. Students bring no food, drink, or personal items into the work area. After completing the day’s activity and cleaning up, they wash their hands thoroughly to prevent contamination of themselves and their belongings.
  8. Post—in a prominent location in the laboratory—all emergency telephone numbers, including those for the school office, poison control center, and a hazardous materials service. Include emergency response and evacuation procedures on this posting. Familiarize students with this information before the first laboratory session.

Safety contract

Your laboratory safety program will not succeed without the support and commitment of all involved, from school administrators to students and parents. Safety rules pertain to teachers and students alike. Clearly state and enforce the rules, without exception, in all classrooms and at all levels of authority.

Make parents and guardians aware of the laboratory safety program. It exists for their children’s benefit. Moreover, stress they accept the rules as implemented on the students’ behalf. A laboratory safety contract, explaining safety rules and consequences for breaking them, signed by the student and the parents or guardian, is the best way to accomplish this. The signatures signify that students and guardians agree to abide by those rules and the measures to deal with infractions.

Safety at every level

Whether you are an elementary, middle, or high school teacher, you have unique laboratory safety issues involving the ages of your students and types of activities performed. Likewise, safety considerations differ among disciplines and by instructional preferences, as well as other factors. A generic laboratory safety contract will not satisfy every need, but it can provide a platform for building a customized document. Regardless of the wording of the laboratory safety contract, be sure to provide signed copies of the contract to your students’ families and the school.

To learn more about lab and chemical safety, visit our online lab and chemical safety information.  We at Carolina wish you the best of success at the beginning

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