Vernier Science Education - June  2024


Forums / Chemistry / Teaching Lab Safety


Teaching Lab Safety

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Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

The school year is about to begin and we are all going to have to teach lab safety. I need ideas that go beyond the boring safety video that so may of my students fail to take serious. Looking across the room, I see clever parody even before it is over. What have others been doing to get this very important topic across to students in a meaningful way? Please help!

Gabriela Martinez Gabriela Martinez 310 Points

Some ways i think would work about getting lab safety across would be having a class discussion on what could really go wrong! Maybe setting up different scenerios and making children understand exactly what they have to do in different situations and the tools that are appropriate to use for each scenarios. This will make them think one step further and give them the idea how things could really happen in the lab going wrong.

Emily Faulconer Faulconer 5755 Points

I teach college level chemistry. I embed safety into each lab activity. Students must take - and pass - a pre-lab quiz that is approximately 40% safety. They must know signal words, spill response, symptoms of exposure, etc. I teach safety as rigorously in the lab as I teach the science concepts. Our EH&S director really appreciates this! 

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Pam, I like doing a scavenger hunt. I make up some questions that take students around the lab and school to find various safety features. The questions are usually in puzzle format (I don't tell them the name of the safety equipment/feature) to make it more engaging. For example: Where is there a safety item that might be useful if one accidentally gets something in her/his eye AND What is this item called? The kids enjoy it, and it gets them up and out of their seats. I have them do it in pairs. Carolyn

Michaela Aiello Michaela Aiello 330 Points

I love this idea of creating a scavenger hunt for students to discover rules about how to be safe in the lab. This is a great way for students to get up and out of their seats, and explore the safety features of the classroom. I think students will be more engaged with the scavenger hunt then a boring safety video.

Navil Lopez Navil Lopez 810 Points

This is a great activity!

Kaitlyn Santi Kaitlyn Santi 335 Points

Hi Carolyn, I LOVE this idea! By adding in the idea of a scavenger hunt, the students see it less as work and more of a fun game that will engage them. I tend to teach younger children, so I would love to adapt this to their age group. Perhaps in the form of rhyming words, more like a hint to what the object is? I would do it in pairs as well, and I would have the students go and find the objects and bring them back to their tables. I love activities such as these where the students can engage with their peers and have fun while learning! Kaitlyn

Kia Shields Kia Shields 3432 Points

Hi! This sounds like a great idea! Students will be engaged with finding all of the answers to the scavenger hunt. Also, students will be learning the names and uses of the lab equipment.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

Carolyn Would you share? The locations would be different but the objects likely the same I like this idea!

Karen Luxford Karen Luxford 655 Points

I love Carolyn's idea! I have only ever gone through the rules in a boring teacher-directed instruction, but have been trying to come up with creative ideas myself. One thing I have fond is doing demonstrations. For example, putting a contact lens in acid to show what may happen if you don't wear your goggles. Steming off of your question, does anyone have some neat or creative ideas of what to do when students break lab safety rules? I once saw a teacher that had his students make a lab safety poster for the rule that they broke and they would hang them on the classroom wall. I am just wondering if someone else tried something similar and what their results were.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

Karen I have a great deal of trouble getting students to wear safety googles. One solution if "pimp my goggles" Rit dye stickers and buttons can really help.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Karen, It may not be a popular idea since it requires the teacher to give up some time, but here is what I have done in the past: If a student breaks a lab safety rule, he/she has to observe rather than participate in the very next lab activity. As observer, he/she has specific questions that need to be answered as it relates to safety issues and that lab. Then the student comes in after school or during lunch to do the lab with me. The student misses out on doing it with a lab partner in class, has to give up some of his/her own 'free' time to make it up, and gets an extra dose of understanding safety issues to help reinforce the need for following safety procedures. Carolyn

Michaela Aiello Michaela Aiello 330 Points

I like this idea about having students be observers during lab experiments if they break one of the safety rules. And I particularly like the idea of having them answer specific questions about safety issues and the lab. Having a set a questions for the student will ensure that the student is still engaged in the learning and the task.

Kia Shields Kia Shields 3432 Points

Hi! I like this idea. From a student sitting out from a lab, they will learn what they need to do right next time so they get to do the lab with their classmates rather than with the teacher.

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

The safety video at this site is quite good Too often safety videos are over the top inspiring laughter :( I like this one it plays in real player

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 64765 Points

After checking into the cost of the "professional" safety video, I filmed my own safety video using my family as "actors." It was cheesy, but it served two purposes. I was able to introduce the safety guidelines I use in my classroom. I was also able to introduce my family to my classes. After I filmed the raw footage, I turned the video editing over to my eldest son. He used iMovie to produce the final product together. My safety video will never win after Academy Awards, but my students enjoyed it and it led to a healthy discussion about lab safety.

Dinah Wright Dinah Wright 410 Points

I like most of these ideas. Karen's idea about the contact lens and acid really sends the message home fast. My favorite was using the familiy for lab safety.., I like :)Nice idea! DW

A few years ago I did something similar with my middle schoolers, however instead of contact lenses I used deer eyeballs. I started with just one small spot of acid then submerged it in acid. As the day progressed students stopped in to see the progress of the eye. I live in the midwest and have several friends who are hunters. They were kind enough to donate the eyes to my room. If you don't know a hunter, local butchers should be able to get some for you fairly cheap.

Wendy Czerwinski Wendy Czerwinski 1005 Points

I saw a demo where someone sprayed hair mousse on aluminum foil and lit the mousse on fire. It as to show girls ti keep long hair tied back and that it is the vpors that catch on fire. Light a match using sulfuric acid to show that not all clear liquids are water. Be careful to wipe up spills right away.

Kia Shields Kia Shields 3432 Points

Hi! Whoa! This experiment will most definitely teach to students the importance of tying back long hair in the lab!

Emily Faulconer Faulconer 5755 Points

These highly visual ways of communicating the dangers are sure to make an impression!

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Wendy and Thread Participants,
I am wondering if the demo that you observed was done under a fume hood. It sounds potentially hazardous and unsafe for students. I would be interested in knowing what safety precautions the instructor took. A couple of things come to my mind as we approach safety and the teaching of it this school year:
1. As the instructor, did I try the demo or activity out myself BEFORE I introduced it in the classroom?
2. As the instructor, did I check the MSDS sheet for each chemical I planned to use to make sure I am aware of all safety concerns? Do I know all the possible safety scenarios and do I have procedures in place that need to be considered for this demo or activity?

I found the FLINN safety video series extremely helpful in making sure that I was up-to-par in my safety expertise. I highly recommend going through the online learning experience and getting certified by FLINN at the middle or high school level. I looked at it as sort of a refresher course for my own personal satisfaction that I was up-to-date with what safety procedures I needed to include in my classroom safety practices.

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 64765 Points

Carolyn wrote, "[i]As the instructor, did I try the demo or activity out myself BEFORE I introduced it in the classroom? 2. As the instructor, did I check the MSDS sheet for each chemical I planned to use to make sure I am aware of all safety concerns? Do I know all the possible safety scenarios and do I have procedures in place that need to be considered for this demo or activity?"[/i] Carolyn brought up some very important points. Trying out the demo or the activity before it is introduced in the classroom because it helps you as an instructor work out any bugs. Also, it is important to have a file of MSDS sheets for every chemical that you have in your classroom. Those sheets should come with any new chemicals ordered. Unfortunately, new teachers walking into a new classroom settings might not have MSDS sheets for existing chemicals. If you are a teacher that finds yourself in this situation, you can go to " target="_blank">Flinn MSDS search and download the MSDS for the substance or substances in question. Another important aspect of lab safety is proper chemical storage. Chemicals should not just be placed in alphabetical order. Thread readers, do you teach proper chemical storage to your students? If so, how do you teach it to your students?

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

Following several high profile accidents in university labs, more attention is being directed to lab safety in school settings. I think that this is entirely appropriate and a necessary component of improved science standards. This being the first day of lab students watch the mandatory safety video, which recommended to use of a fire extinguisher. Personally, I do not think anyone should use an extinguisher unless they have been trained to do so. If a fire is large enough to require the use of an extinguisher the primary focus should be getting students out of harms way. As a chemist in industry I was required to attend fire school and so have been trained in appropriate measures for various types of chemical fires. I have not seen similar training where I have taught. In fact other than these school safety videos primarily aimed at students, I have seen very little safety training. I will look at the Flynn program. Thanks for the suggestion.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Pam, Yes, do check out the FLINN safety videos. I think you will be pleased with the level of quality embedded in them. You bring up an interesting point about fire extinguishers. Every classroom I have ever been in has one, yet teachers are not trained in how to use them. Some teachers don't even know how to get them off the hooks they are sometimes placed on. Moreover, some teachers are not strong enough to pick one up and use it! It was interesting that I was told that I would need to get certified to use a fire extinguisher before I could present at a recent national conference. I checked my local fire department and the state fire marshal to discover that there was no place that offered such certification to an educator or tax paying adult. What good is having a fire extinguisher if there is no one in a classroom able to use it? Plus, I like your other point that it is more important to get the students out of harm's way, which would make sense to hit the fire alarm and exit the classroom as soon as possible. Buildings can be replaced; students and teachers are irreplaceable! Carolyn

TraciAnn Harada TraciAnn Harada 1540 Points

I showed this cartoon picture to my students and had them write down what was wrong. what not to do laboratory
It was something different for the students and I used it as a follow up to a short video which I found on youtube. ultimate lab safety the kids loved it. I paused it half way to talk with the kids about which lab safety rules were broken.
But the Accident at Jefferson High posted above was pretty great too!
Good luck!

Kia Shields Kia Shields 3432 Points

Hi! I loved the what not to do in the lab cartoon! This will be great for students to do because the cartoon gives many examples of what not to do in a lab. Also the video helps reinforce the important of lab safety to students.

Rochelle Tamiya Rochelle Tamiya 4095 Points

Hi Pamela! Like TraciAnn, I have students do a follow up "what is wrong" worksheet, however, prior to that, I took several samples of laboratory safety rules and regulations information sheets/worksheets that I saw online and made my own, calling it a "Safety Contract". Students were alerted that those were the rules of the class room (as the entire class room is considered a working area - LABORATORY) and that like the real world, if these rules and regulations are not followed, then participation will not be allowed. I made it a very clear point of saying that it was created for THEIR health and safety and that it needed to be maintained for any type of hands-on activity to occur (the other option was book work - which is not preferred by them). Students are not allowed to participate in laboratories unless the contract is signed by both the parent and student. They were instructed that they will make up labs by doing textbook and worksheets that were related to what was being learned via the labs until the forms were completed. So far, every year now, all forms have been turned in PRIOR to our first lab - students LOVE hands-on learning and for the small price of having a contract signed, they are willing to get them done and turned in on time. Good luck! By the way, I've also had them do license plates that illustrated TO DO behaviors (versus what NOT TO DO)....and had them posted around the classroom and outside of our doors....

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

I love the license plate activity, Rochelle. Thanks for sharing. From those of us who have been reading and/or participating in this discussion thread, I am wondering if you went through any particular training or course work specific to classroom/lab safety as part of your certification process to become a teacher in your state. The science safety handbook for California schools is a great resource for those states lacking in resources for science teachers. You can find that pdf as well as gobs of other resources (including more videos) at the NSTA science safety portal. Please share here if you find a specific resource there that was particularly useful to you.

Dinah Wright Dinah Wright 410 Points

Hi Carolyn, I'm not sure that most states have labs safety training for science teachers; they probably do. The real questions would be, at what level do states consider it mandatory or necessary for teachers to be lab safety certified? What is the federal requiremets? Are there any federal requirements or is it up to the states to identify if and when they need that sort of training for teachers? I think that it is never too early to start. Common language is one mode of communication I advocate for classrooms and safety discussions should be no exception. I am meeting with our school districts' Science supervisor later on today. I will ask her about the lab safety training requirements for our district. I will also share this blog, so that other teachers in my school can use some of the amazing resources everyone has put together. Happy Trils! DW

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Dinah and other thread followers! I thought this might be of interest to everyone. It comes from FLINN as a pdf, and it tells about the new laws that will be taking effect through OSHA. First of all, the M in MSDS is being dropped. Have you heard of the GHS? That stands for Global Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. As of March 2012, OSHA has revised some things that impact schools as well as industry. All school districts must provide training to teachers and staff on how to read the GHS labels and the new Safety Data Sheets (without the M). The first deadline is about a year from now - Dec. 2013. Chemical manufacturers have until June 2015 to reclassify chemicals and produce the new GHS-formatted labels and SDS sheets for all new products. I am wondering if our administrators have even heard anything about this... Carolyn

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

A colleague on the listserve posted this link to the ACS lab safety site. There are recommendations for K-12 classrooms I especially liked the section on elementary classrooms The link above will prove safety guidelines for k-college as well as for public outreach.

Mitchell Miho Mitchell Miho 3090 Points

What i found to work in hindsight is that the students were all given the lab safety video that has been redone and in this case is kind of interesting, but a lot of them still make mistakes like leaving their hair down and not being careful with lab materials. After we went over the video and the students began to get lax about lab safety, i researched online for similar scenarios that occurred (a student accidentally broke a beaker because he wasn't aware of his surroundings and hit it over) and i found some gruesome but real articles that happened elsewhere in the world and had my students read the article and do a write up on it. A lot of them cringed and made comments about the article as we read through the incidents. This got them to tie their hair back and to be careful when using the chemicals in class! We also have them make bumper stickers and they are required to wear them around campus and get all of their teachers to sign off on it before they turn it in. Each of their bumper stickers had to have one rule that they chose and an illustration of proper procedures to follow the rule and consequences that could occur if they choose to be reckless.

Michelle Porter Michelle Porter 420 Points

I like the bumper sticker idea as well. It is a great way to get them to learn the rules. I also like showing the video of the real life horror stories of not following lab safety rules. I have students who like to play around in the lab and I have to remind them of the dangers of not being careful. I video would really hit home with some of them. Here is a simple video that shows labs safety rules that can be used.


Elizabeth Brewer Elizabeth Brewer 3810 Points

Mitchell, I also like the bumper sticker idea. I'm also wondering if you have any URLs for the accidents that you had your students read. If so, do you mind sharing? Thanks!

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 64765 Points


Here are some of the articles of recent accidents I share with my chemistry classes.
I think it is a good practice as science educators to reread them so that we continue to be vigilant in teaching lab safety and making sure our students follow proper lab protocols all school year.

Wired Magazine's Bad Chemistry blog summarizes the events behind an UCLA student's 2008 death.

This article referred to the young lady that died after her hair was caught in a lathe.

This article reports on an accident where a beaker exploded and hurt a Boston College student.

Recently, 13 students at a community college in Colorado were hurt in a chemical incident.

On a related note, I also think that it is important as educators to consider the types of labs we are going to have our students perform, as well as the demonstrations that we show our students. We need to read the MSDS for the chemicals that are going to be used and ensure that there are not hazards that can be avoided.

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

One of the more humorous things I've done in the past is to have students write a story that shows students doing the WRONG things and the consequences that followed. I allow them to be a goofy as they want. Then they have to make up a set of rules that would have prevented each of the accidents they created. Of course we get serious later on, but I've found it's a good way to get my students engaged and thinking...

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board today announced production and release of a new three-disc, single-box set containing all safety videos produced to date for completed CSB accident investigations. The DVD set is available free of charge and may be ordered by filling out the DVD request form at I have the clips that cover three notable academic accidents at UCLA, Dartmouth and Texas Tech

Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

Dr. Jim Kaufman from the LAb Safety Institute is offering a freee webinar on lab safety June 25th Webinar: How to Create a More Effective Lab Safety Program Speaker: James Kaufman, Ph.D Tuesday, June 25 1:00PM-2:00PM ET This interesting and entertaining one-hour presentation/webinar confronts one of the more common excuses for not having or improving the lab safety program ... "it costs too much." This is simply not true. Excellent lab safety programs do not need to cost large amounts of money. Ten simple lab safety program components will be presented and discussed to demonstrate this important theme. These are the critical components for an effective lab safety program. Register Here: Participants learn how to create a more effective lab safety program without a purchase order or requisition. You don’t want to miss this opportunity for a highly informative, worthwhile and enjoyable learning experience. In this webinar • Learn to identify and correct the top lab safety program mistakes • Develop a more effective lab safety program • Create a safer, healthier, and more environmentally friendly place to work • Help you to grow the culture of safety in your organization James Kaufman, Ph.D. is the President/CEO and founder of the Laboratory Safety Institute (LSI). He has spent the last 40 years teaching the fundamentals of lab safety and creating more effective lab safety programs. His unique approach to lab safety combined with a collection of over 5000 examples of lab accidents make his presentations both highly informative and entertaining. He is the author of numerous books, articles, LSI’s Speaking of Safety Newsletter, and audio and video lab safety education programs. More than 100,000 scientists and science educators have attended LSI’s lab safety courses. Register Here:

Michelle Finzen Michelle Finzen 4720 Points

It is important to know about lab safety for the students to be safe.

Elizabeth Ruiz elizabeth ruiz 1035 Points

so many great resources here!! I am currently a student teacher and I will for sure write down all of the wonderful ways to teach lab safety to students. You have some very fun and hands on ways of learning lab safety. It's a great change from just having them read the safety procedures.

Morgan Hargrave Morgan Hargrave 505 Points

Hello, It's interesting that I come across this post today. I actually observed a class today where the teacher showed a lab safety rap video. I was very impressed with how it caught the attention of not only the students, but the teacher and myself (the student teacher). The link is below if you wish to take a look at it. Hopefully I'm not too late sharing this with you. Good luck with the rest of your school year! P.S. I apologize in advance if someone else already posted it!

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