Academic science laboratories can be unsafe places for teaching and learning due to risks associated with biological, chemical, and physical hazards The OSHA laboratory standard (29 CFR 1910.1450) requires all employees working in laboratory settings (including special education teachers and paraprofessionals) to undergo safety training before they enter the lab. This is to ensure employees are cognizant of and know how to work with chemical hazards in the work area.
According to the standard, safety training must take place at the time of the initial work assignment and prior to assignments involving new chemical exposure situations. Laboratory workers must be provided with information and training relevant to the physical and health hazards of chemicals present in their laboratory. The frequency of refresher information and training shall be determined by the employer.
First, inform workers of the following safety items:
• the content of the OSHA Laboratory standard and its appendices (the full text must be made
• the location and availability of the Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP);
• permissible exposure limits (PELs) for OSHA-regulated substances or recommended exposure
• levels for other hazardous chemicals where there is no applicable standard;
• signs and symptoms associated with exposure to hazardous chemicals in the laboratory; and
• the location and availability of reference materials on the hazards, safe handling, storage and
disposal of hazardous chemicals in the laboratory, including safety data sheets.
Second, OSHA requires the employer provide the following safety training topics:
• methods and observations used to detect the presence or release of a hazardous chemical
(e.g., employer monitoring, continuous monitoring devices, and familiarity with
the appearance and odor of the chemicals);
• the physical and health hazards of chemicals in the laboratory work area;
• the measures that workers can take to protect themselves from these hazards, including protective equipment, appropriate work practices, and emergency procedures;
• applicable details of the employer’s written CHP; and
• retraining, if necessary.
The employer is required to evaluate the effectiveness of the CHP annually and update it as necessary. It would be prudent to also do refresher training on the CHP for employees using the same schedule. An alternative is to provide additional training each month at department meetings.
Be aware that in some states, public employers are not covered under OSHA and may not have to comply with this standard. However, better professional practice advocates the standard’s components in all public and private school science labs; e.g. chemical hygiene officer, chemical training, etc.
Additional safety information
Better professional practices provided by professional associations such as the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have equal standing in courts with legal safety standards. The following list highlights some of the many safety papers representing better professional practices featured on the NSTA safety portal.
• The NSTA Position Statement: Safety and School Science Instruction addresses safety programs, training, and school environments.
• The NSTA Position Statement: Liability of Science Educators for Laboratory Safety focuses on the shared responsibility of maintaining a safe learning environment.
• The NSTA Minimum Safety Practices and Regulations for Demonstrations, Experiments, and Workshops establishes safety practices and regulations for all hands-on demonstrations, experiments, and workshops given at NSTA-sponsored events in rooms, other on-site locations, and on the floor of the NSTA exhibit hall.
Additional issued safety papers by the NSTA Safety Advisory Board can be found on the portal. These papers provide guidance for better professional practices in the science laboratory.