A quick checklist for back-to-school lab safety

It takes only a little imagination to picture all the ways things could go horribly wrong in the lab. Johnny spilling dangerous chemicals …. Jenny burning herself … angry parents … lawsuits … handcuffs ... you get the picture.

That’s why, for some teachers, lab is a headache of epic proportions.

Whenever you have a bunch of moving parts (especially when they include body parts), you run the risk of general disaster.

The reason? Information overload and inattentional blindness. In other words, there’s so much going on, you miss things that should’ve been obvious.

For that reason, Atul Gawande wrote in The Checklist Manifesto that disasters in nearly any field can be averted by careful adherence to checklists.

Here’s a checklist for science lab safety for the new school year:

  • Have all students and their parents signed a Safety Contract before beginning any lab activities?

              Here’s a simple example of a Safety Contract from a real chemistry teacher. It doesn’t have to be too complex, but it should be fairly comprehensive.

  • Are all safety signs visible and in their proper place (Fire extinguisher sign, first aid sign, safety shower sign, etc.)?

             In fact, your students may be unaware of these even though they see them every day. Point them out clearly.

  • Is the Spill Kit ready for use in case of emergency?

The possibility of a spill is a big danger, causing injuries and costly cleanups.

Give ‘em a quick test.

  • Are all safety goggles and glasses in proper condition?
            Replace any broken or stretched out straps or “sticky” goggles.
  • Are all cords for the equipment in good condition?

These can be fire hazards. They can also trip your students. Make sure they’re out of the way and not damaged or knotted.

  • Is all glassware free of chips, cracks, and other damage?

             You don’t want Johnny cutting himself. Or leakage.

  • Are hoods working properly?

This limits your students’ exposure to toxic fumes.

  • If gas/electricity shut off is present, is it in working order?

             Check the shut off and gas jets.

  • Do you have access to safety data sheets (SDS) for all chemicals used in the lab?

Every provider of hazardous chemicals is required to include SDSs.

 

This is not a complete checklist. Your lab, experiments, and classes are unique and have their own sets of challenges. But this should get you started with the inspiration to create your own.

You may have had to sign a Safety Contract yourself that could provide you with more ideas to protect your students.

Look around your lab and even go through the experiment/activity in your mind’s eye.

Can you think of more items to add to the checklist for your lab?

 

Check out the Ward's Science Recommended Materials List (RML) to easily find the products you need if you’re developing a new curriculum or looking for innovative ways to introduce new ideas into existing labs and coursework.

As always, if you have any questions about safety or anything else, just ask the Ward’s Science Plus Us team at sciencehelp@vwr.com. Our in-house scientists and technicians are ready to answer even the toughest inquiries.

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