Why is there a need for strong science safety programs in Connecticut’s middle schools? Revolutionary changes are taking place in science education because of several factors, including:
- Renewed emphasis on hands-on laboratory science fostered by the Next Generation Science Standards and Connecticut science frameworks.
- Significant changes in student enrollments.
- Major building and renovations of school facilities.
- Need to meet challenges of science education for all students.
- Significant efforts to better prepare students at the middle school level for involvement in early college experience programs such as the University of Connecticut high school programs, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate at the high school level.
- Veteran teachers retiring and new teachers entering service.
Of utmost importance for teachers and administrators in planning and policymaking for these changes relative to facilities, curriculum/assessment, students and personnel is laboratory SAFETY!
Science teachers as licensed professionals are charged with duty or standard of care relative to their students. They are given the responsibility of determining if it is a safer working/learning environment for instruction to take place or not. Therefore, it is a professional expectation that science teachers will take all possible actions to help prevent an accident or safety incident from happening. From a legal standpoint, these actions or responsibilities for instruction minimally include the following:
Duty to Notify of Safety Practices and Procedures – Review and have students sign a safety acknowledgement form stating safety practices. See NSTA’s Safety in the Science Classroom for a sample form.
Duty to Model Safety – Always model appropriate safety techniques with students prior to having them work with equipment or carry out procedures.
Duty to Warn – Always advise students of dangers relative to safety prior to and during use of potentially hazardous equipment, materials, etc. For example, remind students scalpels are sharp and can cut skin before dissecting plant specimens.
Duty to Inspect for Safety – Before, during, and at the close of activities, actively monitor student behavior, equipment, etc., to help foster a safer working/learning environment.
Duties to Enforce Safety – Always enforce appropriate safety behavior and have a well-defined progressive disciplinary policy in place that is applied.
Duty of Maintenance – Make sure engineering controls and personal protective equipment was operational and met the manufacturers’ standards. For example, if the ventilation cap on a chemical splash goggle was removed, take the goggle out of operation.
The bottom line is what would the “reasonably prudent person” do to prevent exposure of students to laboratory hazards?
The challenge and responsibility to help make the science laboratory a safer place for students is both a professional and legal expectation for the science teacher and school administration.
The purpose of this web link on safety is to provide direction, support, and resources for middle school science teachers and school administrators relative to planning exciting and safer laboratory experiences for students based on prudent professional practices and legal safety standards.