Safer STEM Labs

Like science labs, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) labs require safety and security measures, with an emphasis on safety training, personal protective equipment (PPE), standard operating procedures, engineering controls, and supervision. While hand and power tools (e.g., hammers, screw drivers, table saws, drill presses) can be found in STEM labs, many students and teachers use these tools without receiving proper safety training.

Teachers and students who use hand and power tools can be exposed to falling, flying, abrasive, or splashing objects and harmful dusts, fumes, mists, vapors, or gases. Teachers should be aware of the following engineering control, PPE, and security recommendations:

• Hand tools in the STEM lab should not be accessible to students when the teacher is not present.

• An engineering control (e.g., wood dust collection system and electrostatic dust filtration device) should be in place to filter wood dust produced by table and hand saws.

• A master power kill switch should be installed that can immediately shut down the power in case of an emergency.

• An eye wash station should be present to in case a student’s eyes are exposed to hazardous liquids or solids.

Hand and power tool safety

Before using hand and power tools and addressing security issues in the STEM lab, teachers should peruse hand and power tool safety procedures. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website has a great resource on safety and security precautions and operation of hand and power tools (see Resources).

Here are some general safety precautions when using power tools, via OSHA. All hazards involved in the use of power tools can be prevented by following five basic safety rules:

1. Keep all tools in good condition with regular maintenance.

2. Use the right tool for the job. For example, don’t use a wrench to hammer in a nail.

3. Examine each tool for damage before use.

4. Operate according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

5. Provide and use the proper protective equipment.

In addition:

1. Never carry a tool by the cord or hose.

2. Never yank the cord or the hose to disconnect it from the power receptacle.

3. Keep cords and hoses away from heat, oil, and sharp edges.

4. Disconnect tools when not in use, before servicing, and when changing accessories such as blades, bits, and cutters.

5. Keep all observers at a safe distance from the work area, outside of the designated work zone.

6. Secure objects with clamps or a vise.

7. Keep your finger away from the power switch when carrying a plugged-in tool to avoid accidentally turning it on.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a school-specific website that provides additional information on tools and their associated hazards (see Resources). Technology and engineering education teachers can also provide excellent safety and security training on hand and power tools.

In the end

Schools are required to provide appropriate safety training for both teachers and students prior to any work in the STEM lab.

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at, or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.


OSHA, hand and power tools—

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand and power tools—

NSTA resources and safety issue papers
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4 Responses to Safer STEM Labs

  1. Stanley V. Kruse says:

    Good info..! I got some informative information to your post.I am thinking now how to learn and working power tools use. I like your post. Especially I like your tips and ideas. Really this is a very helpful post for me. You are so creative.
    Thanks for sharing your post.

  2. Lawrence Hardison says:

    Schools with lab room should and must have security measures especially on the equipment they will be using. Some of those are hazardous that are need to keep an eye with. Teachers and student are also need to be fully protected when touching the lab equipment for safety purposes. They are should be educated on the first place.

  3. Dr. Ken says:

    Dr. Ken’s response to Lawrence Hardison’s comments –
    Larry – “Spot on” as the saying goes! Schools and their teachers are responsible for student safety under “duty or standard of care.” Check out the NSTA Safety Advisory Board’s paper of “Duty or Standard of Care” at Also the NSTA Position Statement: Liability of Science Educators for Laboratory Safety at Any type of lab with hazards like power and hand tools must be under direct adult supervision. Otherwise – the lab is to be locked to prevent students occupancy. Also before any hand or power tool is used – safety training and assessment of that training is a must!!!.
    Dr. Ken

  4. Lawrence Hardison says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you Dr. Ken. I also check those guidelines. The Duty or Standard of Care says it all. Meanwhile, I found this blog( very informative on which they are giving ultimate guide when buying protective equipment for employees.

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