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Safety First in Science

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Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Hi Everyone! I am wondering how savvy other teachers are feeling about the school district policies, state statutes, and federal laws covering safety in their classrooms –especially as they relate to science teaching. I thought maybe it might be interesting to have a discussion on how safety is emphasized in your classrooms and how students are held accountable to practice safe science. Please feel free to share info about one or more of the following ideas (or anything else that comes to mind about science safety): 1. Are there school district policies or state statutes that you are aware of for our school? Were you were informed of them when you joined your district as a teacher? 2. Do you have a safety contract that you use with your students before you begin teaching science each year? If so, how has it helped to provide a safe learning environment for doing science? 3. Have you encountered any “near close calls” that have changed how you teach or approach science teaching? 4. Have you ever been in a science classroom where you observed sloppy safety practices or felt there was a lack of safety practices? 5. What is the number one safety precaution or rule you would share with a new elementary teacher with little science background? I look forward to hearing from you! Carolyn

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

P.S. I found the Scope on Safety feature of the Science Scope to be very helpful. This particular article mentions teacher negligence issues:
Scope on Safety: Negligence - Some things you can't afford to ignore
Carolyn

Adah Stock Adah Stock 101510 Points

Hi! I teach in Texas. There are safety recommendations but no safety requirments except to post exit signs and such. This is so sad. I mentor a group of 5th grade science teachers and they all tell students about the safety of wearing goggles during the boiling of water and then there is that same teacher who is standing over the water, wearing no goggles, a long dangly necklace, long sleeves and with her long hair hanging infront of her face. I don't understand how teachers can preach safety but not show by example. I have a collection of safety articles I will attach. I am glad that this topic is being discussed.

Kathy Sparrow Kathy Sparrow 47692 Points

When I worked in Akron Public Schools (four years ago), we produced our own safety handbook that was written in-house. It was distributed to every middle and high school science teacher and to every elementary teacher. At that point in time, every middle and high school science teacher was required to attend a three hour seminar reviewing safety practices. We also had a district science safety contract that required both the student and parent’s signatures for middle and high school students. There was also a (different) elementary science contract for elementary that also required the student's and parent's signatures. The Environmental Manager (Central Office)who was also in charge of safety (in all areas district-wide) and I worked very closely together in terms of monitoring lab stock/storage rooms and annually checking safety equipment and supplies in each middle and high school science classroom. I’d emphasize two things to elementary teachers: 1. Emphasize to your students that if any type of accident happens, they should tell the you (the teacher) immediately. 2. For any activity or experiment that you are going to do in class with children, do it yourself first.

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 63625 Points

Kathy wrote, "I’d emphasize two things to elementary teachers: 1. Emphasize to your students that if any type of accident happens, they should tell the you (the teacher) immediately. 2. For any activity or experiment that you are going to do in class with children, do it yourself first." Hi Kathy, I think that those are two very important guidelines. I think that both guidelines should be true of all ages, not just elementary school. I would also like to add that teachers in both middle school and high school appreciate it when lab safety is taught from an early age. It is hard to break students' bad habits.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Thanks Everyone for the great ideas mentioned thus far. Adah mentioned the importance of modeling safe practices; Kathy mentioned her district uses safety contracts (Do you have a copy to share?) and required safety seminars for teachers; Ruth and Kathy provided great safety guidelines for teachers to consider (see in the posts above). There is so much more a new teacher needs to know. If some of the veteran teachers would be willing to share their experiences, it might be helpful. This would address question #3 from my first post:

3. Have you encountered any “near close calls” that have changed how you teach or approach science teaching?

And let's keep these great tips coming from question #5:
5. What is the number one safety precaution or rule you would share with a new elementary teacher with little science background?

From Question 3 and 5 combined, I have this tidbit: I had a colleague using sparklers (before they were "outlawed" in our state) after school one day. She was going to use them to help students understand a particular science concept, and she was practicing ahead of time (which is a GOOD thing). Anyway, it set off the sprinklers in her room and the local fire department came to her rescue. Moral: Always try out new things ahead of time!
I would love to hear some of your science safety first stories.
Be Well - Be Safe!
Carolyn

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Hi Everyone! I just came across an interesting article on how to create safe classrooms for student inquiry - Science Sampler: Engendering Inquiry.

It has some great tips for being safe in the classroom and includes some URLs for free safety pamplets and manuals. Kathy shared many excellent ways to make science safety important in a school district. As I read the article, I wondered if teachers and schools had emergency protocols already in place just in case of an accident.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

I am also wondering if everyone knows who the CHO is of their perspective school districts. See the OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) law about this:
OSHA 29 CFR §1910.1450(b)
designates the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of an organization as the Chemical Hygiene Officer (CHO). The Superintendent of the School district is the CHO of the School district until a designee is appointed. The Principal of a school is the CHO of the school until a designee is appointed.
The Superintendent is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the School district and the Principal is the CEO of the school. The Superintendent of the School district is the CHO of the School district until a designee is appointed. The Principal of a school is the CHO of the school until a designee is appointed. The CHO designees must be knowledgeable of and qualified in the duties of a CHO rather than being “Volentold.”

29 CFR §1910.1450(b) Regulation Defining CHO and Duties (Mandatory)
Chemical Hygiene Officer means “an employee who is designated by the employer—and who is qualified by training or experience—to provide technical guidance in the development and implementation of the provision of the Chemical Hygiene Plan. This definition is not intended to place limitations on the position description or job classification that the designated individual shall hold within the employer’s organizational structure.” School system administrators must acknowledge that the CHO is responsible for the safety of students and staff alike. To be an effective CHO, the school administrators must provide the CHO needed time, support and sufficient resources to do a thorough job.

With so much on the minds of our administrators, how do they juggle all of their other responsibilities with the need to be sure all personnel and students are in a safe environment? Where do we as science education professionals need to step up and make sure there are no weaknesses in the safety procedures and precautions implemented in our schools?
It doesn't matter who is responsible when someone gets hurt. The only thing that matters is that we know what to do to prevent accidents and how to quickly get help if there is one.

Tina Harris Tina Harris 65805 Points

I would add a number three to the necessary list - be sure you have a safety contract that you have read to your students (I make mine sign it) and that it is on file not only in your room but with the principals, deans, and counselors. Mine has two rules that students have been warned about like those mentioned above: 1) if you do anything to cause you or others harm you will receive an office referral. 2) if you know of someone who broke rule #1 and don't report it you will be removed from the lab and given an alternate assignment until the class has finished the lab. You wanted a worst case - we were using birthday candles (safety glasses, hair ties, etc.) in my 8th grade class for an observation lab (how long does it take before it is burned out?). One young man wanted me to provide him with a hair tie for his bangs and I said he would have to provide his own - one per person and that he should not have his face in the fire anyway. He decided to prove his hair could catch fire by deliberately putting his bangs in the fire. We all knew "someone's" hair had burned from the smell but no one would admit to it. I told the class that we could not continue when someone blatantly broke the rules. At the end of class a student from another group reported it. The next day I gave the entire class one more opportunity to provide me with information and when the group with member who broke the rules sat there like nothing happened I gave them all passes to the library with an alternative assignment and an office referral to the person who set his hair on fire. I attached a copy of his signed and dated safety contract to the referral to make sure they knew he has been warned of the consequences. The father of one of the guilty student's lab partners in the group came in to protest the fact that his son was not allowed to do the lab. The student admitted that he knew about the burned hair and chose to not report it. The principal backed me up 100% for safety and liability reasons. The principal told him she would have given him a referral as an accomplice and that I was kinder than she, after all, the student did not lose points, only an opportunity to do the "fun" assignment. The guilty party was suspended and took a zero on the lab in progress.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

There is no mistaking the smell of burning human hair! Having emphasized safety with a safety contract was such a smart move! Thanks for sharing your lab dilemma. You handled it beautifully, Tina. Having the signed safety contract is such a great way to not only stress to your students and their parents the lab expectations and importance of safety first, but to provide documentation of their knowledge of the expectations when a gross misconduct occurs. I remember seeing a video clip one time of how an individual using hair spray was severely burned. The NSTA website has a Science Safety Portal with a wealth of resources on safety.
Would you be willing to share your safety contract form? I know Flinn Scientific has an excellent example of one, too. I used it as a template to construct one for my classes.

Are others willing to share their safety contracts and/or Unsafe Encounters? It really helps to hear how we are encouraging safe science in our science classrooms.

Adah Stock Adah Stock 101510 Points

I look at the specific questions and I have this to add: (1) Nearest miss problem: I had was to have a student look down the barrel of a heated test tube in chemistry years ago. The chemicals shot up into her face and luckily she was wearing her goggles so nothing serious happened other than getting a small amount on the check of hot chemicals. I had students learn a Goggle Song I made up from Row, Row, Row Your Boat and if a student took off their goggles during lab other students could spot them and report them and that person had to sing that song solo to the class so they didn't forget and remove their goggles during lab. (5) Number one rule: Never, ever, put food or your hands in your mouth during lab. For those of you who would like my copyright free lyrics: Song lyrics: [To Row, Row, Row Your Boat] Wear, wear, wear your goggles when you are in the lab Safety first, protect yourself or you will have to sing. (OK corney and nonrhyming but it worked!)

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Thanks for sharing your scary close call, Adah! No matter how prepared we are, we still need to continually monitor our students so that they don't put themselves and others in harm's way. I love your goggle song by the way. It really helps to hear others' close calls. I would never have thought that a student might try that! Those are the kinds of examples we can share with our students to remind them of the importance of behaving responsibly in lab!

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Perhaps you haven't heard about the horrific accident that happened in an Oak Lawn, Illinois high school this past week (I think it occurred on Friday, Sept 16th). A student lost sight in one eye when a teacher set up a demonstration where a capped bottle containing dry ice was passed around for students to observe. The bottle exploded permanently blinding the student in one eye. I checked the MSDS sheet to see how it might have helped this teacher to realize the danger of such a feat. Sure enough the MSDS sheet is very clear - "Solid consignment of dry ice in a gas-tight vessel can lead to catastrophic failure of the vessel by over-pressurization. Storage of dry ice should never occur in a gas-tight container." If only the high school teacher had consulted the OSHA-required information BEFORE using dry ice in a unsafe manner! My heart goes out to the student and family. How sad for the teacher and district to have had to learn such a costly lesson! I wonder how school districts and science teachers are practicing safe science out there. Can you share what you do to make sure new and experienced teachers alike will not place their students in harm's way like the above incident? Thanks, Carolyn P.S. I attached the MSDS sheet for solid carbon dioxide.

Attachments

dry_ice.pdf (0.04 Mb)

Sandy Gady Sandy Gady 43135 Points

I have the students and parents sign one safety contract that I keep on file in my classroom. No student is allowed to physically participate in any labs until I have the contract returned. I also have half size safety contracts the students glue into the front of their Science notebooks that they sign. As a class, we review all of the safety rules that apply to the lab. In the 21 years I’ve taught, we have had only one accident. Students have been really good at self policing to make sure accidents don’t happen, because they know they could lose the privilege of doing labs if they don’t take the safety rules seriously. I am attaching a copy of the contract we have used at my school.

Attachments

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Thanks for sharing your use of the safety contracts, Sandy. That is a really important component for ensuring safe lab experiences for our students. Flinn Scientific has a great one for free. In light of the Illinois eye-blinding accident last week, I really wonder what teachers and administrators are doing to make sure their TEACHERS are aware of potential dangers. For example, does your school or district have a procedure in place where teachers read the MSDS sheet for each chemical BEFORE they expose their students to even the seemingly safest everyday chemicals? If not, how might your school have prevented this particular horrible accident with the dry ice?

Cheska Robinson Cheska Lorena 5065 Points

Ah, that is scary! Hearing things like this makes me nervous, especially as a first-year teacher! Can you resend that Safety document? I couldn't open it.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Hi Cheska, I am sorry you had difficulty opening that pdf. Try copying and pasting this URL directly into your web address space: http://avogadro.chem.iastate.edu/MSDS/carbon_dioxide_solid.htm or try clicking on this: dry ice MSDS sheet If that doesn't work, let me know, perhaps I could email it to you as an attachment.
My Best,
Carolyn

Nicole Dainty Nicole Dainty 4120 Points

[b]1. Are there school district policies or state statutes that you are aware of for our school? Were you were informed of them when you joined your district as a teacher?[/b] Good topic! Unfortunately, as a new teacher, I had to figure safety issues out by myself. When I started last year I inherited a chemical closet that was a disaster waiting to happen. (One unlabeled bottle was even oozing out the bottom!) That was what sparked my search into lab safety. I work for a Catholic diocese rather than a school district, and we have no official safety policies in regards to science in particular. So I have used resources from NSTA and flinn. [b]2. Do you have a safety contract that you use with your students before you begin teaching science each year? If so, how has it helped to provide a safe learning environment for doing science?[/b] I do a mini-unit on safety at the beginning of the year. Students learn safety rules, get a safety contract, go through a "safety stations lab," and must pass a safety test. My 8th graders make a safety video that the younger students watch before their test. When kids pass their test, I make them little "lab licenses" that they keep in their science binder. If they break safety rules, they lose their license, and must pass the test again to earn it back. Also, when I do group work, I use group roles. One of the roles is a "safety engineer," who is responsible for reminding students of safety precautions during the lab. 3. Have you encountered any “near close calls” that have changed how you teach or approach science teaching? I had a student take off her goggles in the middle of doing a lab and was splashed with a dilute solution of methylene blue. She used the eye rinse, and then her mom took her to the eye doctor to be sure all was fine. It made me glad that I felt I had covered my bases, in terms of instructing kids about wearing goggles and what to do in case of any incident, and having MSDS sheets readily available, because teachers can be liable if they are not protecting students from safety mishaps. It served to heighten my awareness of safety concerns during a lab as well. Just because you TELL students to wear goggles, doesn't mean that they will all keep them on. 5. What is the number one safety precaution or rule you would share with a new elementary teacher with little science background? Read the MSDS sheets for any chemicals you might be using during a lab, and communicate/instruct explicitly about safety with students frequently.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Nicole, Thank you for your personal accounts and sharing how you embed safety in your science classroom. I am so appreciative that you took the time to read and respond to some of the questions that I asked in my first post for this thread. Your responses will be very valuable to new and veteran teachers alike. It would be great to get some more responses to some of my original questions. After a dozen or so responses have been shared, I will create a word document of all the great ideas and advise that can be downloaded for all interested participants. Thanks again, Nicole! [color=blue] Here are the questions again: Please feel free to share info about one or more of the following ideas (or anything else that comes to mind about science safety): 1. Are there school district policies or state statutes that you are aware of for our school? Were you were informed of them when you joined your district as a teacher? 2. Do you have a safety contract that you use with your students before you begin teaching science each year? If so, how has it helped to provide a safe learning environment for doing science? 3. Have you encountered any “near close calls” that have changed how you teach or approach science teaching? 4. Have you ever been in a science classroom where you observed sloppy safety practices or felt there was a lack of safety practices? 5. What is the number one safety precaution or rule you would share with a new elementary teacher with little science background?[/color]

Taylor Donahue Taylor Donahue 765 Points

When I was in high school we always went over safety at the beginning of the year, but it was barely addressed the rest of the time. Teachers always reminded us about safety goggles and close toed shoes, but that is about it. In elementary school we had classroom rules and basic courtesy rules, but nothing about safety was really discussed. It was lacking and we had some issues with fires in the science room before, but no one was never seriously hurt while I was there. I think that students especially young ones need to be instructed in being safe with science.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

The Chemical Safety Board has completed investigations of accidents at UCLA, Dartmouth and Texas Tech. The UCLA and Dartmouth accidents claimed lives and the Texas Tech accident resulted in serious injury. A video discussing safety in academic labs and the case study of the Texas Tech accident can be found here. http://www.csb.gov/newsroom/detail.aspx?nid=387 http://www.csb.gov/videoroom/detail.aspx?VID=61 While these cases involve university labs, the lessons learned are relevant to everyone working in a chemistry teaching laboratory.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

I recently completed the FLINN Scientific Middle School Safety Course. It is an online Free Science Laboratory Safety Training course taught through the use of videos and handouts. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a refresher on safety or who is unsure of what he/she should know and be able to do in order to keep students (and teacher) safe while teaching science. When completed, Flinn provides you with a certificate of completion. If you don't want to participate in the whole course, you can scroll through the video titles and pick the ones you are most interested in viewing. I especially appreciated the 'horror stories' that were shared. They depicted some of the horrific accidents that have occurred in science classrooms across the nation.

 steve staley 2480 Points

Have students come up with a list of classroom or lab safety guidelines

Loyola Pasiewicz Loyola Pasiewicz 610 Points

As a chemistry teacher, safety is the first thing I emphasize to my students starting on the first day of school. I use the Flinn saftey contract and I also have the students come up with their own list of safety rules prior to handing out the contract. After we come up with our own list of safety rules, we read the Flinn contract together. Also, because the students are minors, the contract is not valid without a parent's signature as well. So I make the students bring it home and have their parents sign it too. Students in my class cannot participate in labs if they the safety contract is not signed by both the student and the parent. In class to emphasize safety, we do a scavenger hunt to find all of the safety items (eye wash, shower, first aid kit, fire extinguisher, etc) in the classroom. In the back of my room I have the "Lab Felon" board. If a student is not following safety rules their name goes on the board and they lose participation points. If they lose all possible participation points for any given lab, I call home and the student is not allowed to participate in the next lab experiment. In response to question #3 about any lab scares: This year, with my AP class, the girls in the class like to wear the UGGs slipper type shoes and I have allowed this up until now, because they are closed toe. However, a few weeks ago, we were doing an experiment and one of the students was walking around with pipet and pipet bulb. The pipet bulb had filled with liquid so I told her she neeed to squeeze it out. The student squeezed out the pipet bulb over the floor and onto the student's foot instead of over the sink as I had demonstrated at the beginning of class. (That student became a lab felon) Later that day, the student wearing the UGGs came back to finish her lab and she had a hole in her sock because the substance that was in the pipet bulb had gotten on her sock. Fortunately, the student's skin underneath was fine, but it was cause for concern.

Loyola Pasiewicz Loyola Pasiewicz 610 Points

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Wow, Loyola, thank you so much for sharing that 'close safety encounter'. Who would have thought? That's why it is so important for us to share those things. It opens up our eyes to just how easy an accident might happen even when we take every precaution possible. I love how you use the term lab felon! You seem to have excellent safety procedures in place.
That brings up a safety consideration that I hope everyone has thought of - having a spill station ready. FLINN's safety video series addresses that in Chapter 33. I am attaching the Course's TOC in case anyone is interested in viewing any of these free safety videos.
Keep those 'close encounters of the safety kind' coming! We all benefit and can make our classrooms and labs even safer.
Thanks,
Carolyn

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Hi Everyone,
I wanted to bring to your attention a particular journal article that emphasizes the importance of our legal responsibilities to keep our students out of harm's way in the science classroom. It is Dr. Roy's article, "Safer Science: Best Practices for Safety Issues in the Science Classroom and Laboratory".
If you are not familiar with the legal term "duty of care" and don't purposefully exercise precautionary measures to make sure your science classroom/lab is safe and students are appropriately instructed in safety matters, then please read this. There is no such thing as 'immunity' if one doesn't take appropriate safety measures for known hazards or dangers in the science lab. It's a huge responsibility - to provide a safe learning environment - and teachers must never get sloppy, forgetful, or negligent. Lives and limbs are at stake! If you have never had a course in science safety or do not know about your state school code or OSHA laws governing science labs, then this article is an important first step in getting armed with the knowledge that will keep you and your students out of harm's way. If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think about the article. Also, I am wondering what things others do safety-wise every time chemicals, lab equipment, etc., are utilized in a lab activity. Do you have a safety checklist to follow? OR Do you have specific safety instructions you give?
Does your district have a procedure for you to follow if someone gets injured? OR How do you prepare in order to avoid potential accidents?

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68605 Points

Hi All For those of you who may be following the ongoing investigation into the lab accident that resulted in the death of a student at UCLA, the director of that lab has been charged. Coverage by the American Chemical Society can be found through the link below. Charges have also been filed against UCLA. http://cen.acs.org/articles/89/web/2011/12/Charges-Brought-UCLA-Researchers-Death.html

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Wow, Pam, if prestigious universities (with experts galore) have trouble keeping their students and staff safe, then K-12 school districts should be forewarned that safety needs to be planned for, staff need to be trained, and safety procedures need to be practiced! I came across an interesting study completed by the U.S. CDC (Center for Disease Control). The SHPPS (School Health Policies and Practices Study) is completed every six years - the next one is due this year (2012). The section on "Injury Prevention and Safety" is a quick one page read. I will attach it here. It seems that in 2006 there was marked improvement from 2000 in several areas. Here is one exerpt from the fact sheet:
76.1% of states and 94.6% of districts required students to wear appropriate protective gear when engaged in lab activities for photography, chemistry, biology, or other science classes, and among the 64.6% of schools with lab activities for these classes, 97.6%.

Here's my question: Why do 24% of our states deem protective gear (esp. goggles) not important enough to require? How many teachers in those states take it upon themselves to exercise an appropriate duty of care to keep their students safe from lab accidents? I must revisit my state's school code where all the policies and statutes are listed for school safety (For Illinois it can be found at the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) website.) Teachers and administrators need to not only know what is required of them legally; they need to go further and cover the safety gaps not explicitly required in order to keep our students and teachers out of harm's way. There may be a lot of accidents waiting to happen...

Patty McGinnis Patricia McGinnis 25605 Points

I was just helping a colleague clean out chemistry supplies yesterday; we ran across a number of items that have no business being in a middle school. Our discussions included having some sort of safety training that all science teachers should have to be required to complete. In digging around, I found that Flynn offers school laboratory safety courses and will provide documentation of their completion. If you go to their site, you can search by state to find addditional information. What a great resource that might help teachers avoid accidents in their classrooms. New teachers, as well as veteran teachers, would both probably benefit from a safety refresher course. http://labsafety.flinnsci.com/ProfessionalDevelopmentCredit.aspx

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 89723 Points

Yes, the FLINN scientific science safety video series is an excellent way to bone up on safety measures. It took me about 8 hours to complete over the course of a month. It was worth every minute of the time! I would highly recommend it to all elementary and middle school science teachers, new and veteran alike.
FLINN is very teacher friendly. I have called them on a few occasions with my safety questions and they were able to help me every time. Their phone number is 1-800-452-1261. If you don't have their catalog yet (free for the asking), it contains a treasure trove of safety helps. In case you haven't found it yet, FLINN also has a section on the website with several safety pdfs that cover a wide range of safety issues. For those not wanting to take the time to complete the professional development series on safety, these word documents will point out important safety considerations: General Laboratory Safety Issues

Kudos to you and your colleague for tackling the inventory/clean up of the science lab facilities, Patty.
Thanks for sharing the importance of taking the time to check what's lurking in our science lab cupboards. I would love to hear what you found and what steps your colleague took to safely dispose of the items. We all benefit from our personal stories.

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