A key feature of the high school science curriculum is well-planned laboratory experiences. Not only is the lab experience an enhancement and reinforcement to the cognitive knowledge, lab activities also support current science education research advocating a "hands-on" approach. Creating a safe laboratory environment is a necessity and it requires planning, organization, and a certain amount of troubleshooting.
Planning refers to the teacher having done the lab previously to familiarize himself/herself with the procedures and how long it takes. It includes outlining safety procedures for a given activity and documenting these safety considerations in lesson plans. Planning also can refer to the teacher taking steps to insure student knowledge and accountability for safety practices.
Organization refers to concise and easily understood written and verbal instructions for a lab activity, as well as materials being prepared and measured out ahead of time. It includes equipment being procured and checked to see that it is operational and safe.
Troubleshooting refers to identifying all the possible hazards of an activity and taking steps to minimize the dangers. If the potential hazards outweigh the educational value, perhaps the activity should be modified or omitted.
There needs to be a concomitant increase of student and teacher awareness of good safety practices in order to minimize risks to a practical level. This chapter is designed to strengthen teachers� knowledge of safety concerns so that they can model safety practices for their students to emulate.
In the classroom, science teachers need to make health and safety an integral part of their instruction. Ultimately, it is the teacher's responsibility to make certain that proper safety considerations have been made and that the appropriate precautions have been taken. These safety features should be documented in the teacher's lesson plans.
Kaufman (1989) suggests that in preparation of class activities, teachers ask themselves the following questions about each activity:
. What are the risks associated with this activity?
. What are its worst possible outcomes?
. What do I need to do to be prepared if these outcomes should occur?
. What practices, equipment and facilities would reduce risks?
. How can I relate these hazards to dangers that my students face in their everyday lives?
Not only are teachers held accountable for appropriate safety procedures, but students must be also. It is the teacher's responsibility that all students learn and practice the proper safety rules, have the opportunity to develop and practice the necessary safety skills, and therefore develop positive attitudes about safety. (Vos & Pell, 1990).
The following list provides suggestions for the teacher to achieve these goals of student safety:
. Have a plan of how to teach students the desired safety practices.
. Have students brainstorm potential hazards and identify appropriate responses.
. Involve students in planning for safety to identify possible consequences.
. Post written rules and safety policies in the room.
. Provide each student with a written copy of the rules and safety policies.
. Demonstrate and/or role play various safety practices.
. Test students to assess their levels of understanding of safety practices and reteach, if needed.
. Have students and their parents sign a safety contract. (See Appendix for examples.)
. Teachers should keep students' tests, contracts, and other information pertaining to their safety education programs.
. Have students identify location of safety equipment on a blank map of the class/lab room.
. Do not overlook any infraction of a safety procedure.
. Continuously reinforce and review safety practices.
. Model good safety behavior for your students to emulate.
. Fully explain the consequences for not complying with the appropriate safety practices.
. Each student should know the location of and how to use all the safety/emergency equipment in each lab room.
. Each student should dress appropriately for lab:
.. Roll up long sleeves above elbows.
.. Avoid loose and bulky clothing.
.. Remove bulky jewelry or long-hanging necklaces.
.. Long hair should be tied back.
.. No open-toed shoes are permitted.