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Laboratory Safety - Planning Today for Tomorrow's Safety

Marie A. C. Langham,
South Dakota State University

With August's arrival, planning for a new school year races forward. However, laboratory safety must be an integral component of every science class (including plant pathology!) and should not be forgotten during the hurried rush of the new school year. Developing safety plans, procedures, and fundamentals are the foundation of a safe classroom environment. Building this foundation requires coordination and cooperation from administrators, teaching faculty, and students.

Administrative responsibility includes assigning appropriate student numbers to laboratories, reserving science laboratories for only science classes, maintaining and repairing facilities, providing laboratories with appropriate safety equipment, and initiating faculty safety planning and coordination. Administrators can also function as the team leaders for disseminating new safety information to the faculty.

Faculty responsibilities begin with their personal laboratory safety practices. Teachers lead by example. Sometimes, a teacher may find that they are teaching their students the most current safety information, but on their own part, they are practicing the same safety procedures that they learned during their training. Safety procedures have changed rapidly over the last twenty years. Have you updated your personal safety habits as often as you have changed the practices that you teach? Teachers must be examples of good laboratory practices by practicing the principles that they teach; however, faculty responsibility does not end there. Student safety is enhanced in laboratories where faculty include student safety in their teaching plans. Developing and maintaining good safety standards and appropriate safety plans for each laboratory and grade level are a vital part of teaching science. Teachers are also the "eyes and hands" on the spot to check safety equipment and to report safety deficiencies or identify the need to replace or upgrade safety equipment.

Students have the responsibility to learn and follow the safety practices for each of their laboratory classes. It is the student's responsibility to utilize the safety equipment provided and to learn safe laboratory practices and procedures. Having the best safety equipment will not protect the student who removes their safety glasses every time the teacher is looking elsewhere or the student who drinks an unlabeled liquid. To emphasize the importance of the student's responsibilities, many teachers develop laboratory safety contracts for the students to sign. Also, learning safe lab procedures should begin early. Students who learn good practices in elementary school will be better prepared to learn new safety techniques and principles in middle and high school.

Cooperation and coordination between each of these levels is required for laboratory safety. With everyone's assistance, the goal of teaching laboratories with no accidents or injuries becomes a teaching reality.

For more information on laboratory safety practices, procedures, and guidelines, try the following websites:

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