Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Safer Science

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Safer Science

Article excerpt

January 2012, Best Practices for Safety Issues in the Science Classroom and Laboratory


Safety in Uncharted Waters

Many science students want to go beyond the charted curriculum waters of comprehensive or specialized high schools. In response, for the past few decades, schools have provided on- and off-campus independent study programs. The self-designed programs take place at universities, hospitals, research laboratories, architectural firms, jet engine manufacturing plants, and so on. These settings can provide exceptional learning opportunities, especially for those students who aren't always successful in the traditional science classroom. Unfortunately, if not planned properly, these uncharted waters can lead to safety and liability issues for the student, teacher, school district, and sponsoring site.

Developing the prime directive

Before a student begins an independent study program, the student, teacher, and sponsoring site (if the program is off campus) need to develop a safety plan. A number of components need to be addressed, including but not limited to:

What is the objective of the program relative to curriculum expectations? In other words, what is the specific focus of the independent study?

What specific activities or experiences are planned? Will the student learn how to operate an electron microscope or large reflective telescope, inoculate bacteria, or work with hazardous chemicals? Will the student work in a laser laboratory ?

Who will directly supervise the student's work both on and off campus? Will the student work side by side with a laboratory mentor? Will the student help an engineer design an engine? As noted in Investigating Safely, teachers should remind mentors that students need "understanding, guidance, and direct supervision at all times" (Texley, Kwan, and Summers 2004, p. 153).

What types of laboratory equipment, materials, and so on will the student use? Will the student use expensive and sophisticated laboratory equipment? Will the student work with radioactive nuclides?

What is the safety training program? Who will conduct the training? Will the training include hazard communication; the "Laboratory Standard" (i.e., safety protocols for dealing with hazardous lab chemicals); personal protective equipment; machine guarding (i.e., protection for machine operators); and any other training specific to potentially dangerous equipment, materials, and so on? …

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