Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Heightened Risks

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Heightened Risks

Article excerpt

Hands-on science activities sometimes place teachers and students in elevated and potentially dangerous locations. Whether students are collecting meteorological data on a school roof, studying aerodynamics by launching paper airplanes from elevated platforms, or dropping parachute designs in stairwells, teachers and school districts can face liability if someone falls.

Safer alternatives

Teachers are legally responsible under their duty of care to perform a safety assessment before implementing any hands-on classroom activity. When completing a safety assessment, teachers should go through an activity step-by-step and determine what parts of the activity could be dangerous and what could go wrong in these situations. A dry run of the activity without students is also recommended. Teachers should then think of alternative actions that could make the activity safer. This may include elimination of the activity from the curriculum.

In the paper airplane and parachute activities, for example, teachers should note that they and students need to wear eye protection during testing, given that flight patterns may be unpredictable. Teachers should also be aware that students are at risk of falling from elevated areas. A device called a grabber can be used during testing instead. It has suction cups or tongs at one end and a hand-grasp system at the other and comes in a variety of lengths.


Also, a parent volunteer, instead of a student, could fly models from an elevated platform that has fall protection in place, such as railings. In the case of the weather unit, under no circumstances should students be allowed on the roof of the school. There are relatively inexpensive electronic sensors for weather data gathering that can be read from the safety of the laboratory.

As for the teacher standing on elevated platforms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employees receive prior training for working with such surfaces (see "On the web"), including walking-working surfaces (1910. …

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