The “Science Activity Safety Checklist,” written by NSTA’s Science Safety Advisory Board, allows teachers to vet any new demonstration, activity, laboratory, or field investigation before using it in the classroom or laboratory. The checklist requires that the teacher has met the following safety requirements.
Safety training must be completed before any activity or demonstration.
After safety training, have students and a parent or guardian review and sign a safety acknowledgment form. For examples of elementary, middle, and high school safety acknowledgement forms, visit the NSTA Safety Portal.
Complete a Hazard analysis and review Safety Data Sheet (SDS). A hazard analysis is the first of three steps (hazard analysis, risk assessment, safety action) to determine the appropriate safety action. The SDS lists chemical hazards. Other sources for hazards include the NSTA listserv, NSTA Safety Blog, and NSTA Safety Portal.
Complete a risk assessment to determine what risks result from the hazards. If the hazard is a corrosive chemical such as an acid, for example, the risk is the acid’s potential to burn the skin or eyes.
Review and apply appropriate safety controls to address risks (elimination, substitution, engineering controls, standard operating safety procedures, class size, special needs students, and personal protective equipment). Based on the risk assessment, take the appropriate safety action. For example an acid would require students and teachers to wear indirectly vented chemical splash goggles, aprons, and nitrile gloves.
Share with students a list of PPE and other safety protocols documented in the procedure.
Prepare a general statement of safety precautions for the teacher and students. Before doing a hands-on activity or demo, teachers need to share with students a written document containing the required safety precautions of the activity or demo.
Review and document safety precautions for chemicals. Share salient safety precautions for hazardous chemicals found in SDS.
Review and document safety precautions for physical hazards (e.g., trip-fall hazards and projectiles). Review appropriate safety precautions for all determined physical hazards.
Review and document safety precautions for biological hazards (e.g., bloodborne pathogen exposure, toxic plants).
When using hand or power tools, make sure you review and document safety precautions prior to doing hands-on activities or demos.
The teacher performs lab, activity, or demonstration prior to its use with students. Performing new hands-on activities and demos prior to using it with students ensures all possible safety issues have been addressed.
Keep a plan in place to monitor student behavior in meeting safety expectations during the activity (e.g., making sure PPE stays on, keeping appropriately defined distance from apparatus). Enforce progressive discipline policies for students, including well-defined student behavior expectations, direct adult supervision, and specific discipline actions in steps. The first step, for instance, would involve a verbal warning, followed by the students’ removal from class and a zero for the lab activity if he or she repeats the same offense. The student may ultimately be permanently removed from the class if the behavior is not rectified.
In the end
Always make note of safety actions in your lesson plans and keep copies of the check list. Should there be a safety incident, this information will be helpful in providing proof that the science teacher took the appropriate actions. Accidents, of course, can still happen even when safety protocols are in place. Be vigilant during all activities and demonstrations.