Breakerspaces are areas where students demolish, repurpose, fix, or disassemble appliances, electronics, toys, and other devices to learn how they work, what components were used to create them, and how they were designed. Like any type of construction or demolition work, safety preparation is absolutely critical. When preparing a breakerspace activity, teachers should consider the following safety guidelines.
Personal protective equipment
Be aware of personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements and appropriate use of them (e.g., safety glasses or goggles for the eyes and work gloves to protect the hands). Always do a hazard analysis and risk assessment and take appropriate safety action before starting a hands-on activity. If the breakerspace activity requires the use of a screw driver, for example, a hazard could be that the end of the hand tool is sharp. The risk is the potential for cutting or puncturing the skin or eyes. The appropriate safety action would be the use of safety glasses or goggles and work gloves when using a screw driver.
Working with hand tools
When using hand tools,
• inspect tools before using them (e.g., check for cracked handles on hammers and screwdrivers);
• use the right tool for the right job;
• ensure materials are secure so they don’t slip (e.g., use clamps or a vise when appropriate);
• use caution when handling tools to help prevent injuries (e.g., cuts, impalement);
• store and secure tools under lock and key after using them; and
• remove any flammable substances when working with iron or steel hand tools.
Assess hazards and determine risks of materials and equipment
When working with equipment and materials, teachers should be mindful of the following safety considerations.
• Remove the plug or batteries after using electrical equipment.
• Electronic equipment could cause electrical shock. Any electrical device with an AC>DC switch mode (e.g., computers, power supplies) stores about 200 V on its input capacitors and can retain high voltage for a length of time. If the device hasn’t been plugged in for at least several weeks, it should be safer to use. But always use a multimeter to test the voltage on the high-voltage capacitors to be certain.
• Do not work with wet hands or clothing.
• Do not work on electronic devices with any metallic jewelry on your hands.
• Do not use metal and plastic toys and electronic equipment containing lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, bromine, and PVC plastic.
• Be aware of sharp objects, choking hazards, and projectiles.
• Materials and equipment with sharp metal or glass edges can cause cuts and infections.
• Springs and elastics can become airborne and cause injuries.
• Materials and equipment with sharp points or prongs (e.g., wires and nails) can cause cut or stab wounds.
• Hot glue guns and soldering irons can burn the skin.
• Batteries contain hazardous corrosive chemicals.
• Toys or appliances containing screens contain chemicals that hazardous and should not be used.
• Properly dispose of or store materials upon completing the activity.
• Prohibit students form eating food when working in a breakerspace.
• Everyone in the lab should wash their hands to reduce risk of cross contamination.
• Always wash hands with soap and water upon completing the activities.
Students need to have training on all of the safety issues discussed in this article and successfully complete a safety assessment before partaking in breakerspace activities.
Under “duty or standard of care,” teachers need to continually supervise students engaged in breakerspace activities. This is to ensure that behavioral expectations are being followed and allows teachers to be prepared for safety issues.
Breakerspaces require special attention to safety preparation on the part of both teachers and students. Ongoing teacher review of safety and direct supervision of student behavior are necessary for a safer breakerspace experience.