Laboratory Safety Standards
A school science laboratory is an excellent setting for students to explore and investigate the world around them. Almost every part of students’ lives is affected by science. Allowing them to see, touch, and manipulate objects in a laboratory situation gives students the real world experience to get them excited about science and to prepare them for college and beyond. However, James A. Kaufman, director of the Laboratory Safety Institute, proposes that most schools do a poor job of protecting students and teachers in the laboratory environment (Kaufman, 2002). He explains that while administration is quick to react on issues involving the health and safety of students, there is one area that has received little attention from school management. Kaufman (2002) writes, “That issue [area] is laboratory safety and the health and safety awareness in general, in the teaching of science (p. 1).” In 1984, the Council of State Science Supervisors, in cooperation with the National Science for Occupational Safety and Health and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, published a safety guide titled, School Science Laboratories: A Guide to Some Hazardous Substances. Since then, the guide has been updated and revised to reflect updated science curricula. The latest guide, titled, School Chemistry Laboratory Safety Guide, was published in 2006 and provides teachers with quick reference to create a safe learning environment for their students when working in a science laboratory (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2006). The School Chemistry Laboratory Safety Guide explains that “students develop attitudes toward safety and acquire habits of assessing hazards and risks when they are young (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2006, p. 2).” Our students have diverse backgrounds and experiences, many with no hands on training in handling chemicals or equipment; whereas, others are well prepared for risk assessment and safety planning (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2006). The Commission (2006) explains that the “school science lab provides an opportunity to instill good attitudes and habits by allowing students to observe and select appropriate practices and perform laboratory operations safely (p. 2).” The guide suggests that teachers work safety standards into their curriculum in informative and beneficial ways by making it interesting to the students. OSHA is a Federal Agency that disseminates and enforces standards dealing with occupational safety and health as they apply to Federal and private employees in the workplace. “The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 requires employers to provide safety and health protection for teachers and other school system employees (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 2006, p. 2).” Section 18 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act gives states the allowance to develop OSHA-approved state plans, thus granting the state regulatory and enforcement responsibilities for occupational safety and health within their own state (CDC - NIOSH Publications and Products - Safety Checklist Program for Schools, 2003). The "State-plan" states must create standards and enforcement that are identical to, or at least as protective as, Federal OSHA standards and are required to extend their coverage to all state and local government workers, including those in public schools. Minnesota has an OSHA-approved State plan; North Dakota does not (CDC - NIOSH Publications and Products - Safety Checklist Program for Schools, 2003). OSHA has no authority to inspect or enforce standards in public schools in states without state plans. However, the local Federal OSHA office may be able to provide hazard recognition assistance and technical support (CDC - NIOSH Publications and Products - Safety Checklist Program for Schools, 2003). Compliance assistance information is also available on OSHA’s website. There is no Federal law...
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