Health and Safety in the Science Laboratory

Surely the need for safety in the school laboratory is merely to keep the little darlings under control? Isn’t it? There is no way that a school environment would contain something that would harm a child……….

Technically this is not true. Governing bodies do control the type and strength of harmful substances that are allowed to be used in schools but this does not mean the risk is removed entirely.

Pupils will never come into contact with extremely hazardous chemicals but they will encounter everyday chemicals such as acids and alkalis that are irritants and corrosive. Because of these chemicals it is extremely important that pupils are explained the importance of basic laboratory rules;

 1. Do not enter the classroom until the teacher tells you – sometimes experiments that have been prepared prove too tempting for little hands and accidents can occur.

2. Put your coat and school bag where they will not cause an accident – if there are bags in aisle ways then that causes a hazard for a trip or fall. Someone carrying glass wear containing chemicals could easily trip smashing the glass and possibly throwing the chemicals all over some unsuspecting person.

 3. Always wear EYE PROTECTION when carrying out experiments – you only get one pair of eyes!

 4. Do not eat or drink in the laboratory – this is a hard and fast rule guys. Eating and drinking in the laboratory leads to contamination and ingestion of chemicals. What makes this even worse is that if someone ingested a harmful chemical through contamination of food in the laboratory then they would not think to declare it in an emergency room to a doctor. Thus slowing down both the diagnosis and the cure.

 5. Tie long hair back – nothing burns quicker than hair in a Bunsen burner flame!

 6. Loose clothing must be tucked away securely to avoid fire.

 7. Report any accidents to the teacher immediately – a teacher will know how to deal with the accident properly. Do not attempt to pick up broken glass ware yourself.

 8. If you are unsure……. ASK – the teacher is there to provide you with an enjoyable learning experience. If you are unclear on any of the instructions or rules then ask.

There are two points of view that this article is written for: Teachers and Parents.

Teachers. you must protect yourself by making sure that these rules are embedded in everyday lessons. The age of litigation is too widespread for you not to make sure you follow the rules and you must remember that parents trust you with the life of their children – this cannot be taken lightly. There are many very useful resources available which interactively show pupils how to behave and follow rules in the laboratory.

Parents, you too can protect your children by making sure they understand why there is a need for these rules. The teacher is not just boring who doesn’t want the pupil to have fun but merely concerned that a situation could arise where a young pupil could be put in harms way.

Finally, science is an exciting subject and pupils are bound to want to ‘play’ with chemicals. Keep the practical fun and simple with specific learning objectives so that pupils do not feel the need to see what happens if they add chemical X to chemical Y!