I. The Wake-up Call
For effective science laboratory safety and security, appropriate preparation is critical! The January 2019 NSTA Blog commentary focused on building preparation for safety and security. This February commentary focuses on providing some specific strategies for making science laboratories in schools not only safer, but also more secure. This is of special importance, again given that hazardous materials and other dangerous artifacts found in science laboratories can be the focus of terrorists.
II. Regulatory Standards
Regulatory standards created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (https://www.osha.gov) such as the Hazard Communication Standard, the Laboratory Standard, the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard, Emergency Action Plans, Hazardous Materials, and others, provide direction toward providing for a safer and more secure teaching/learning laboratory environment.
Additional safety and security support can be found coming from such agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency (https://www.epa.gov), Homeland Security (https://www.dhs.gov/publication/k-12-school-security-guide ), National Institutes of Health (https://www.nih.gov) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov ).
All governmental standards and regulations determine the level of compliance in each of the items addressed. Also, teachers and school administrators need to be aware of safety expectations from national, state and local health, building, and other agencies. Science teachers and their supervisors as specialists need to work in concert with administrators in attempting to provide a safer and secure working environment for students, faculty and administrators.
III. Raising Safety/Security Levels in Science Labs
The following list is applicable to the school science facility (laboratories, preparation rooms and storerooms) in effort to raise levels of awareness relative to safety and security. It is by no means designed to be a complete program.
A. Entrances, Exits, Stairways and Hallways – All means of egress must be clear and unobstructed to allow for safe evacuation along with proper posted signage for exiting.
B. 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.
C. Safety Engineering Controls Operation – All drench showers and eye wash equipment must be inspected and in operational order in areas housing or using hazardous materials. A minimum of monthly inspections should be required. Also, appropriate flushing activation protocols are required to be followed for eyewash stations and emergency showers on a weekly basis. For additional information see ANSI Eyewash Z358.1-2014 In-Depth Compliance Guide (https://www.eyewashdirect.com/ansi-eyewash-z358-eyewash-standard-guide).
D. Personal Protective Equipment – Safety splash goggles, safety glasses with side shields, non-latex gloves and aprons, etc., should be easily accessed and are in good condition. Eye protection must be sanitized before use.
E. Fire Suppression Equipment – appropriately rated fire extinguishers must be located in the laboratories, storerooms and preparation rooms per NFPA fire codes. The extinguishers should be appropriately inspected and located for easy access. All science employees must annually be trained in extinguisher operation if employee use is approved by BOE policy/procedure.
F. Pressurized Gas – All pressurized gas cylinders must be placed in an upright position and properly secured with appropriate signage.
G. Electrical Energy – All circuits in science laboratories, preparation and storerooms should have ground fault circuit interrupter protection (GFCI), in addition to easily accessible master shutoff switches with appropriate signage.
H. Gas Energy – All laboratories, preparation and storerooms should have master gas shutoffs with appropriate signage.
I. Water – Master water shutoff valves should be easily accessible with appropriate signage.
J. Fume Hoods – Fume or exhaust hoods should have periodic inspections for appropriate operation such as face velocity (annually per NFPA 45). The hood’s stage should not be used as a storage area for hazardous chemicals, labware or any other items. Annual inspection by certified technician is required per NFPA 45.
K. Hazardous Chemical Storage – All hazardous chemicals should be properly labeled, dated and stored. The areas housing hazardous chemicals should have restricted access and a high level of security.
L. Laboratory Hygiene – No drinking, eating, smoking, etc. should be permitted in the laboratory, save exceptions approved by the chemical hygiene officer.
M. Appliances – All appliances such as refrigerators, microwaves, ovens, etc., should be appropriately labeled for intended use.
N. Ventilation – Laboratory and preparation rooms should have “negative pressure” relative to corridors.
O. Housekeeping – Appropriate housekeeping must be secured to reduce or eliminate trip/fall hazards, provide adequate clearance of sprinkler systems, provide access to emergency equipment, have an unobstructed means of egress, etc.
P. Emergency Lighting – Emergency lighting should be available to assist evacuation in power outages as appropriate. The fire code requires that the emergency lights or lighted exit signs be inspected and tested at least once a month. The test must include a thirty-second test of the lights. An annual test is also required, with the lights being operated on emergency power for the full minimum of thirty minutes.
Q. Evacuation Plans – Evacuation plans should be posted in appropriate sites, in addition to emergency numbers. All laboratories, preparation rooms and storerooms should have communication access in cases of emergency.
IV. Final Note
Bottomline is – “Be Prepared!” for safety and security incidents. Preplanning can pay off big time for a safer and more secure workplace!
Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at email@example.com or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.
NSTA resources and safety issue papers