Academic journal article The Technology Teacher

Safety and Liability in the New Technology Laboratory: To Be Technologically Literate, People Need to Recognize and Understand How to Avoid Hazards in a Broad Array of Situations

Academic journal article The Technology Teacher

Safety and Liability in the New Technology Laboratory: To Be Technologically Literate, People Need to Recognize and Understand How to Avoid Hazards in a Broad Array of Situations

Article excerpt


In the era of the 1940s to 1970s the industrial arts shops that preceded today's technology education laboratories were full of large machines and other items of obviously high hazard potential. They were usually replete with safety posters, painted lines marking the floors, and other reminders that safety was paramount (Haynie, 2008). They resembled factories, and even the casual visitor quickly perceived that there was reason for caution (Modern School Shop Planning, 1976). Our labs today do not seem so obviously dangerous. In addition, very little of the instruction in our classes now actually concerns how to operate cutting and fabricating equipment. Activities center on smaller-scale projects, lots of computer-intensive work, design and modeling activities, simulations, and, when cutting and fabricating is required, it is done on small model-making machines rather than large green or gray behemoths. The smaller machines are well guarded, have less power, and simply do not appear as intimidating and dangerous (Haynie, 2008). That's the problem!

Though the few materials-processing machines in today's technology laboratories are smaller and less often used, they can be hazardous if not used properly. A typical shop class of the 1950s devoted a large percentage of instructional time to general shop safety and then additional time to specific safety topics for each major piece of equipment or process studied (Moon, 1975). Students took safety tests on general precautions and also on specific machines. Each time a new process or procedure was taught, the relevant safety rules and precautions were reviewed again. Safety was a major topic throughout the course. How much time and energy do you and your students devote to learning about safety?

To be technologically literate, people need to recognize and understand how to avoid hazards in a broad array of situations (Gunter, 2007; ITEA, 2000/2002/2007). Though the hazards today are different, and perhaps more subtle, they still exist--and teachers must effectively teach about safety (Stewart, 1987). Teachers also need guidance on how to protect their own careers and reputations in the unfortunate event of an accident resulting in injury to a student, because our society has become increasingly litigious over time (Deluca and Haynie, 2006). This article presents some of the general elements of liability laws (common to most states) and helps teachers understand what those mandates mean and how to meet them. Lastly, if technology teachers follow the suggestions given here, they will take a big step in providing a safe environment and in protecting themselves from being found negligent if an accident occurs.

Safety Education is Not an Event! It's a Process

Many teachers stress safety at the beginning of the course but then fail to follow up adequately later. The worst approach to teaching safety is to have students memorize long lists of safety rules during the first few weeks of class (DeLuca and Haynie, 2006). When this is done, the provisions of the rules are not in a context where they are well understood, and thus they are easily forgotten in a short time. There is no need for students to memorize a rule about a specific item of equipment the first week of class if they will not actually see and use that machine until the sixth week. Effective safety education requires that a short list of general safety rules be learned before entering the workspace, but specific cautions for each process or piece of equipment should not be taught until they are actually needed. At that time, the safety precautions become a natural element of learning the process, and they can be understood in context.

The effective teacher also teaches safety by reminding students of safety concerns throughout the course and through the example of working safely themselves (DeLuca and Haynie, 2006; and Gunter, 2007). A student who learns from direct instruction that safety glasses must always be worn quickly "unlearns" that information if she looks in the lab window after school to see the technology teacher drilling a few holes with the hand drill while not wearing eye protection. …

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