Science Safety


Science Education Safety

Key Issues in School Laboratory Safety

Students and teachers must be aware of the potential for safety problems in the science classrooms and laboratories. Schools should review available safety resources and develop safety training for their teachers and students as well as safety rules for the classroom.

Teachers must choose safe labs that cover important concepts. Thought must be given to the chemicals purchased by schools. Which chemicals are the safest for the proposed labs, how much is needed, where will the chemicals be stored and in what arrangement? Are the storage areas locked and well ventilated?

Schools needing to dispose of unwanted or unknown (no label) chemicals should contact their state science education supervisor, state ecology agency or regional EPA office. Teachers or school officials should be prepared to give the name or description of the chemical, amount, type of container, nearest landfill and local sewage system.

Some state education agencies have worked with their state pollution control agencies and have used polluter fines to conduct state wide school chemical clean-ups in their states. Where this can not be done, local schools should band together to engage in regional chemical clean-ups to conserve costs.
Scientific equipment must be maintained. Written lab instructions must be clear and safety rules emphasized in these instructions.

Most states have regulations on fume hoods, whole-room ventilation, chemical storage, eyewash, safety showers, eyeware, aprons, gloves, fire blankets, first aid kits, and fire extinguishers in science classrooms. Schools should check with their state science supervisor for regulations, laws, and liabilities.

General Science Safety Checklist

The following is a suggested checklist of safety concerns in K-12 science laboratories.

  1. Appropriate protective equipment for the science laboratory
  2. Enforcement of safety procedures
  3. All students and teachers know the location of all protective equipment
  4. All students read and sign a lab safety contract.
  5. Sufficient, accessible lab stations per number of students in each laboratory
  6. All students must wear proper safety goggles whenever chemicals, glassware, or heat are used
  7. Equipment and chemical inventory maintained
  8. Chemicals properly arranged by compatibility and securely stored
  9. Restricted amounts of chemicals
  10. Adequate labeling on equipment, chemicals and hazards
  11. Material Safety Data Sheets
  12. Unobstructed exits from laboratory
  13. Uncluttered laboratories
  14. Master shut-off switches for gas, water and electricity
  15. Safety Rules and charts posted
  16. Records kept on safety training and lab incidents
  17. Emergency exit/escape plan posted
  18. Live animals and students are protected from one another
General Lab Safety Recommendations
  1. Always perform an experiment or demonstration prior to allowing students to replicate the activity. Look for possible hazards. Alert students to potential dangers.
  2. Safety instructions should be given orally and be posted each time an experiment is begun.
  3. Constant surveillance and supervision of student activities are essential.
  4. Never eat or drink in the laboratory or from laboratory equipment. Keep personal items off the lab tables.
  5. Never use mouth suction in filling pipettes with chemical reagents. Use a suction bulb.
  6. Never force glass tubing into rubber stoppers.
  7. A bucket of 90% sand and 10% vermiculite, or kitty litter (dried bentonite particles) should be kept in all rooms in which chemicals are either handled or stored. The bucket must be properly labeled and have a lid that prevents other debris   from  contaminating the contents.
  8. Smoke, carbon monoxide, and heat detectors are recommended in every laboratory. Units should be placed in the laboratory and related areas (storerooms, preparation rooms, closets, and offices).
  9. Use heat-safety items such as safety tongs, mittens, aprons, and rubber gloves for both cryogenic and very hot materials
  10. A positive student attitude toward safety is imperative. Students should not fear doing experiments, using reagents, or equipment, but should respect them for potential hazards. Students should read the lab materials in advance noting all cautions (written and oral).
  11. Teachers must set good safety examples when conducting demonstrations and experiments. They should model good lab safety techniques such as wearing aprons and goggles.
  12. Rough play or mischief should not be permitted in science classrooms or labs.
  13. Never assume that an experiment is free from safety hazards just because it is in print.
  14. Closed-toed shoes are required for labs involving liquids, heated or heavy items that may injure the feet.
  15. Confine long hair and loose clothing. Laboratory aprons should be worn.
  16. Students should avoid transferring chemicals they have handled to their faces.
  17. Never conduct experiments in the laboratory alone or perform unauthorized experiments.
  18. Use safety shields or screens whenever there is potential danger that an explosion or implosion of an apparatus might occur.
  19. Proper eye protection devices must be worn by all persons engaged in supervising, or observing science activities involving potential hazards to the eye.
  20. Make certain all hot plates and burners are turned off when leaving the laboratory.
  21. Frequent inspection of the laboratory's electrical, gas, and water systems should be conducted by school staff.
  22. Install ground fault circuit interrupters at all electrical outlets in science laboratories
  23. A single shut-off for gas, electricity, and water should be installed in the science laboratory. It is especially important that schools in the earthquake zones to have such a switch.
  24. MSDS sheets must be maintained on all school chemicals. Schools should maintain an inventory of all science equipment.
  25. Laboratories should contain safety equipment appropriate to their use such as emergency shower, eye-wash station (15 minutes of potable water that operates hands free), fume hood, protective aprons, fire blankets, fire extinguisher, and safety goggles for all students and teacher(s).
  26. Protective (rubber or latex) gloves should be provided when students dissect laboratory specimens.
  27. New laboratories should have two unobstructed exits. Consider adding another to old labs if only one exit exists.
  28. There should be frequent laboratory inspections and an annual, verified safety check of each laboratory should be conducted by school staff.
  29. Give consideration to the National Science Teachers Association's recommendation to limit science classes to 24 students or less for safety.
  30. All work surfaces and equipment in the chemical or biological laboratory should be thoroughly cleaned after each use.
  31. Students should properly note odors or fumes with a wafting motion of the hand.
  32. Chemistry laboratories should be equipped with functional fume hoods. Fume hoods should be available for activities involving flammable and/or toxic substances.
  33. Several chemical authorities believe that contact lenses do not pose additional hazards to the wearer and that contact lenses are allowed when appropriate eye and face protection are used. The wearing of contact lenses in the science laboratory has been a concern because of possibility of chemicals becoming trapped between the lenses and the eye in the event of a chemical splash.  
  34. All laboratory animals should be protected and treated humanely.
  35. Students should understand that many plants, both domestic and wild, have poisonous parts and should be handled with care.
  36. Criteria for scheduling special needs students into laboratory classes should be established by a team of counselors, science teachers, special education teachers, and school administrators. Aides or special equipment should be made available to the science teacher.