Lab Safety: Teacher Responsibilities
What every teacher should know about lab safety
It is vital that you maintain a well-managed classroom and student laboratory. Before students return in the fall, take steps to ensure a successful, mishap-free year of science teaching. We suggest beginning your school term with a thorough examination of your laboratory work and storage areas.
Teachers and teacher aides should lead by example and wear personal protective equipment (PPE); follow and enforce safety rules, procedures, and practices; and demonstrate safety behavior to promote a culture of safety. They should be proactive in every aspect of laboratory safety, making safety a priority.
This general safety checklist highlights essential information for working in the high school laboratory. It should be periodically reevaluated for updates.
Laboratory and equipment upkeep
Conduct regular inspections of safety and first aid equipment as often as requested by the administration. Record the inspection date and the inspector’s initials on the attached equipment inspection tag.
Make sure eyewash stations, safety showers, fire extinguishers, and fire blankets are correctly positioned and in good working order.
Insist that only authorized personnel can access the storage area.
Check PPE to assure that goggles, gloves, and aprons are in serviceable condition and adequate for the number of students in your classes. Make sure that the goggle sterilization cabinet works correctly.
Notify the administration in writing if a hazardous or possibly hazardous condition (e.g., malfunctioning safety equipment or chemical hazard) is identified in the laboratory and follow through on the status.
Never use defective equipment.
Additional Reading: Recommended Safety and Emergency Equipment for the Laboratory
Overcrowding, a tremendous problem in many schools, is exceptionally unfortunate for those who teach science. Laboratory accidents escalate dramatically when too many students attempt to work in a confined area. Do what you can to eliminate overcrowding.
Make science classrooms off-limits to nonscience classes. Curious students cannot resist the wondrous things residing in science rooms. A science teacher should always control these facilities to prevent unfortunate occurrences.
If it’s not already scheduled, initiate a meeting of science teachers; the principal; and, if appropriate, the science supervisor. Review your school’s laboratory safety rules, making certain they conform to those mandated at district and state levels.
Keep organized records on safety training of staff for as long as required by the school system.
Keep records of all laboratory incidents for as long as required by the school system.
Post an up-to-date chemical hygiene plan.
Safety and emergency procedures
Educate students on the location and use of all safety and emergency equipment prior to laboratory activity.
Identify safety procedures to follow in the event of an emergency or accident. Provide students with verbal and written safety procedures to follow in the event of an emergency or accident.
Know the location of and how to use the cutoff switches and valves for the water, gas, and electricity in the laboratory.
Know the location of and how to use all safety and emergency equipment (e.g., safety shower, eyewash, first aid kit, fire blanket, fire extinguishers, and mercury spill kits).
Keep a list of emergency phone numbers near the phone.
Conduct appropriate safety and evacuation drills on a regular basis.
Explain in detail to students the consequences of violating safety rules and procedures.
Perform regular inventory inspections of chemicals.
Update the chemical inventory at least annually or as requested by the administration. Provide a copy of the chemical inventory to the local emergency responders (e.g., the fire department).
Dispose of each outdated and unnecessary item as prescribed in its Safety Data Sheet (SDS). Make current SDSs (for all chemicals) readily available for anybody requesting them.
Do not store food and drink with any chemicals.
If possible, keep all chemicals in their original containers.
Make sure all chemicals and reagents are labeled.
Do not store chemicals on the lab bench, on the floor, or in the laboratory chemical hood.
Ensure chemicals not in use are stored in a locked facility with limited access.
Know the storage, handling, and disposal requirements for each chemical used.
Make certain chemicals are disposed of properly. Consult the label and the SDS for disposal information and always follow appropriate chemical disposal regulations.
Additional Reading: Lab Safety Dos and Don’ts for Students
Preparing for laboratory activities
Get students thinking about safety right from the start. Start the year off with activities focused on lab safety. You can lead an activity to learn what your students already know about lab safety This lab safety worksheet can be used to test student’s safety knowledge. This list of Lab Safety Dos and Don’ts can serve as a reminder throughout the year.
As you plan each lab activity, weigh the potential risk factors against the educational value.
Understand all the potential hazards of the materials, the process, and the equipment involved in every laboratory activity.
Check that PPE is the accepted type for the activity and worn correctly at all times—by students and instructors.
Make sure all hazardous materials show clear labels and reside in a well-secured area. Account for them meticulously at all times. Do not allow students to remove these materials from the lab.
Ensure that laboratory working conditions are safe, with proper equipment on hand to deal with any potential extreme hazard or mishap.
Provide proper equipment and supplies for students to use. Also provide instructions in laboratory technique and in handling materials before students conduct experiments.
Inspect all equipment/apparatus in the laboratory before use.
Before entering the laboratory, instruct students on all laboratory procedures that will be conducted.
Discuss all safety concerns and potential hazards related to the laboratory work that students will be performing before starting the work. Document in your lesson plan book.
Post—in a prominent location in the laboratory—all emergency telephone numbers, including those for the school office, the poison control center, and a hazardous materials service. Include emergency response and evacuation procedures on this posting. Familiarize students with this information before the first laboratory session.
If you will be performing dissections, review these FAQs about dissection safety.
Additional Reading: FAQs about Dissection Safety
Ensuring appropriate laboratory conduct
Be a model for good safety conduct for students to follow.
Students must dress appropriately for the laboratory. This includes wearing the required PPE and NOT wearing certain types of personal apparel, including open-toed shoes, shirts with floppy sleeves, and shorts or short skirts. Long hair must be tied back to keep it away from flames and chemicals. Enforce all safety and classroom procedures at all times.
Never leave students unsupervised in the laboratory.
Never allow unauthorized visitors to enter the laboratory.
Never allow students to take chemicals out of the laboratory.
Never permit smoking, food, beverages, or gum in the laboratory.
Examples of lab safety agreements can be found at these links:
This information is from the School Chemistry Laboratory Safety Guide created by the US Consumer Safety Product Commission (CPSC), Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
Closing up the lab
Your responsibilities for lab safety continue through to the end of the school year. Properly disposing of chemicals, preserved organisms, and other lab wastes should be included in your end-of-the-year procedures. The end of the year is also a good time to review safety equipment and supplies that were used during the year to determine if replacements are needed. Learn more about closing up the lab.
Lab safety equipment from Carolina
Carolina offers an extensive line of chemicals, chemistry sets, lab safety products, and equipment.