I. Unsecured School Facilities
School buildings can be a potentially dangerous place for teachers and students if safety and security are ignored. For example, science labs have potential biological, chemical and physical hazards which can be present health and safety risks. Only safety trained employees and students are to be allowed in science labs. Unsupervised occupants can be seriously injured putting the science teacher and school administration in legal jeopardy. Also be aware that given the inventory of hazardous materials, science labs can be the focus of intruders! In fact, Homeland Security has addressed this concern in a great resource titled “K-12 School Security Guide (2nd Edition) and School Security Survey.” It can be found at https://www.dhs.gov/publication/k-12-school-security-guide. The resource provides preventive and protective measures to address the threat of violence in schools.
II. Regulatory Standards
Employers are charged by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) mission is to ensure that employees work in a safer and healthful environment by setting and enforcing standards. This is fostered by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards. They must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards. (https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/oshact/section5-duties) This includes security issues.
The science teachers and supervisors/administrators need to work in concert in attempting to provide for a safer and secure teaching/learning environment for students, faculty and administrators.
III. Raising Security Levels
A safer and secure science laboratory begins with building or facility security needs which must be addressed. This is the first “line of defense.” These simple recommended procedures will not guarantee a 100% secure workplace. However, they will raise everyone’s level of awareness and help the building become more secure and safer – both physically and psychologically! Important recommended procedures include:
A. Designated Reception Area – The building should have a designated entrance and receptionist area to control access. All remaining entrance doors should be locked.
B. Visitors – Once signed in, visitors should be escorted to designated work areas by employees.
C. Employees – All employees should wear employee photo identification.
D. Strangers – Employees should challenge any unaccompanied stranger(s) in the workplace.
E. Mail – Employees should be trained and be provided with personal protective equipment (e.g., latex or vinyl gloves) to sort mail. Protocols should be in place to deal with suspicious items.
F. Lockdown/Evacuation Procedures – Employers should develop and have posted both lockdown and evacuation procedures for employees and students. All science laboratories, preparation rooms and storerooms should have communication access in cases of emergency. Appropriate drills should be exercised.
G. Science Laboratory Access – All access doors to laboratories are to remain closed and locked when unoccupied. Only certified science teachers, administrators, and facilities maintainers/custodians should have special keys to laboratories, storerooms and preparation rooms.
Employers should establish effective safety and health management systems and prepare their workers to handle emergencies before they arise. For example, OSHA requires emergency preparedness plans for employees in its 29 CFR Part 1010.30 and 29 CFR Part 1910.165 standards (Available at www.OSHA.gov). These standards mandate that employers provide emergency action plans and fire prevention plans. These plans are only an example of proactive preparation.
OSHA’s Fact Sheet titled “Planning and Responding to Workplace Emergencies” (https://www.osha.gov/OshDoc/data_General_Facts/factsheet-workplaceevergencies.html) provides emergency procedures, including the handling of any toxic chemicals. They should include:
A. Escape procedures and escape route assignments.
B. Special procedures for employees who perform or shut down critical plant
C. Systems to account for all employees after evacuation and for information
about the plan.
D. Rescue and medical duties for employees who perform them.
E. Means for reporting fires and other emergencies.
Also check with state and local government departments for additional safety/security incident planning procedures.
V. Final Note
Remember – “AAA” – Awareness, Assessment and Action are keys to addressing safety and security – be prepared!
Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.
NSTA safety blog: http://blog.nsta.org/2016/06/13/welcome-to-the-nsta-safety-blog/
NSTA resources and safety issue papers: https://www.nsta.org/safety/