How Can I Improve Lab Safety in My Classroom?

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Science classes can be fun, but how can you keep students safe during lab experiments? Here are some ways to ensure a fun, safe learning environment!

Establish Rules for Behavior & Personal Safety

First, discuss rules for student conduct before any lab work so students know what’s expected of them. Rules should include behaving in a responsible manner (i.e., no pranks or throwing items), no food or drinks in the lab, and no chemicals or equipment may be removed from the lab. Students should also be aware that they may not work unsupervised.

Second, personal safety rules should be established. Ensure that students know how they should dress the day of lab work, as well as the location of safety equipment, how to maintain a safe lab environment and what to do in the event of an accident or spill.

Lab work should never begin until students have learned proper lab behavior, safety standards, and how to work with specific chemicals and equipment.

The National Science Teachers Association offers suggested rules for conduct and personal safety here.

Outfitting Students for Safety

Appropriate clothing is an important consideration. Students should not wear baggy clothing, open-toed shoes or dangling jewelry on lab days. Longer hair should be tied back and tucked into the collar to prevent it from falling forward and getting too close to hotplates.

To protect clothing, lab coats and lab aprons can be worn. Lab coats don’t have to be the boring, white coats we always see scientists wearing on TV! For fun, why not try a tie-dyed lab coat? For more protection, a chemical-resistant, PVC coated apron may be more appropriate.

To avoid skin exposure, disposable gloves should always be worn when working with chemicals. Textured gloves improve the wearer’s grip, helping to prevent dropping. Because some students may be allergic to latex, there are also latex-free options.

The Right Tools for the Right Job

Kids are going to be kids. Some won’t want to pay attention, some will laugh and joke around. By using the proper equipment, most accidents can be prevented.

If used improperly or carelessly, hot plates can be dangerous for students to use. One way to lessen the risk is with a hotplate that incorporates a magnetic stirrer and eliminates the need to stir liquids by hand. For classroom use, opt for a hotplate with a control panel that is separated from the heating plate and displays a warning to alert users until the plate has cooled to a safe temperature.

Because glassware can break, plasticware is a better choice whenever possible. Plastic test tubes, which are molded from either polystyrene or polypropylene, are not only less likely to break, but are also more affordable for classroom use.

To help avoid spills and hold test tubes in place, use a grip rack that will hold test tubes steady. The racks are available in a variety of configurations, including units that sit on a bench, as well as wall-mountable units. Be sure to choose a grip rack that will accommodate the size of the test tube you’re using.

With the right tools and the proper preparation, students can safely enjoy a fun, learning experience.

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