Safety and chemical storage deficiencies are widespread in American schools. In the wake of recent stories about students across the country becoming injured in laboratory incidents, Milwaukee teachers are taking steps to ensure safety regulations are exceeded, colleagues are kept informed and students are safe.
Many regulations are put into place and resources, checklists and tools available for laboratory science teachers through Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Laboratory safety has been at the forefront in many industries but slower to be put into practice in the school setting. The video below shows how Menomonee Fall’s Chemistry Teacher, Amanda Gilman, is taking steps to protect the students and faculty at their school.
Teachers have a responsibility to lead by example and enforce all safety rules and practices. The need to educate students in the sciences, especially chemistry, presents challenges to educators that include safety concerns for students and faculty. Here are 5 critical factors all laboratory science teachers need to take seriously:
1. Take care of the lab & equipment.
How often are you conducting inspections of safety and first aid equipment? Be sure it aligns with what your administration requires. Record dates of when inspections are performed and include your initials on inspection tags. If you find a hazardous or potentially hazardous condition, notify administration and follow through on the status. This is a given, but defective equipment should never be used.
2. Keep good records & maintain chemicals.
It is important to update the chemical inventory at least annually and provide a copy of the list to local emergency responders (fire dept. etc). Consider the following when performing an inventory inspection:
- Chemicals should not be stored with food or drink
- Keep chemicals in their original containers
- Make sure everything is labeled
- Be sure to dispose of chemicals properly. Check labels and always follow instructions
- Keep records of all staff safety trainings and any laboratory incidents that may occur
3. Know safety & emergency procedures.
Educate students on the location and use of all safety and emergency equipment prior to laboratory activity. Provide students with safety procedure instructions to follow in the event of an emergency / accident. Keep a list of emergency phone numbers in a designated location. Additionally, know the location of and how to use cut-off switches & valves for water, gas and electricity in the laboratory. Practice safety and evacuation drills on a regular basis.
4. Prep for laboratory activities.
Before conducting lab activities, evaluate the educational value vs. the potential risk. Have a strong understanding of the hazards of the materials and equipment being used. Conduct a thorough inspection of all equipment before any activity. Provide instructions to students before performing any work in the lab and follow up with lesson plan notes with details of any occurrences that took place during the experiment.
5. Model good laboratory conduct.
Being a good role model in the laboratory is key to providing an important example for students to follow while preparing for and conducting experiments. Be sure all students wear the necessary protective safety equipment and enforce all safety rules, at all times. Equally as important, never leave students unsupervised or allow unauthorized visitors to enter the lab.
Milwaukee-area middle school and high school science teachers are taking a stand against the upsurge in serious laboratory incidents that have occurred across the country in recent years due to experiments using highly explosive materials. In partnership with R&R Insurance based in Waukesha, area teachers have created a toolkit and on-demand webinar that will help educate other teachers and faculty on safety regulations and practices in schools, classrooms and laboratories.
The toolkit consists of some of the tips mentioned in this post:
- chemical storage and utilization checklists
- disposal tips
- a guide to hazardous experimentation and avoiding accidents,
- video & webinar trainings
- and risk management resources and tools
What steps are you taking to ensure the safety of students and faculty in your school and laboratory?