Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Safer Science: March 2014, Best Practices for Safety Issues in the Science Classroom and Laboratory

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Safer Science: March 2014, Best Practices for Safety Issues in the Science Classroom and Laboratory

Article excerpt

Don't Make Your Lab a McDonald's

Whether hazardous chemicals or biologicals were used yesterday, last month, or last year, there is a good chance remnants are still there. Don't assume just because lab tables have been "cleaned off" that there is no risk of contamination. For example, seeds used in a seed lab might leave behind pesticide residue on tabletops. A broken thermometer can leave traces of mercury behind for years, posing a continuing danger to teachers and students.

This is why eating or drinking in the high school science lab is risky business. Unfortunately, some science teachers use various rationales to permit such activities, e.g., allowing students who are hungry, hypoglycemic, or diabetic to violate the rule. Some of the same teachers establish eating or "safety" zones where no chemicals or biologicals are allowed. Unfortunately, chemicals and biologicals know no boundaries.

Who says so?

Many legal standards and professional best practices address this issue. Examples include:

National Research Council: "Eating, drinking, smoking, gum chewing, applying cosmetics, and taking medicine in laboratories where hazardous chemicals are used should be strictly prohibited. Food, beverages, cups, and other drinking and eating utensils should not be stored in areas where hazardous chemicals are handled or stored. Glassware used for laboratory operations should never be used to prepare or consume food or beverages" (NRC 1995, p. 82).

The National Science Teachers Association's Safety in the Science Classroom notes: "Eating, drinking, gum chewing, applying cosmetics, manipulating contact lenses, and other unsafe activities are not permitted in the laboratory" (NSTA 2013, p. 2).

OSHA Sanitation Standard: "No employee shall be allowed to consume food or beverages in a toilet room nor in any area exposed to a toxic material" (OSHA).

National Association of Biology Teachers: "No eating or drinking should be allowed" (NABT 1994).

More considerations

* Too often students (and sometimes teachers) forget to wash their hands, which may have chemical residues on them. These residues can potentially contaminate food or drink. After the lab, always wash hands with soap and water.

* Custodians clean labs at the end of the day. Unfortunately, not all schools are into "green cleaning chemicals."

Instead, hazardous cleaning chemicals are used, leaving residue that can cause cross-contamination of food or drink. …

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