Introduction to Safety Training
Safety is everyone's responsibility. A school district's administrators, whether on the campus or in the district's central offices, have a crucial role in assuring that students and teachers work and learn in an environment that is safe. See the introduction in the TEA Texas Safety Standards Introduction.pdf document for more on the administrators' responsibilities. As science teachers, we have a duty and responsibility to guard our safety and the safety of our students by providing training, supervision, and a safe environment in which to learn science.
The training you are about to begin is a self-paced course. It includes information about your legal and classroom responsibilities, information about how to operate and maintain lab safety equipment, and web links and documents for you to access and utilize during this training and throughout the school year.
Before you begin the course, open the Texas Education Agency Texas Safety Standards.pdf file and save it to your desktop or in your documents so you can reference it throughout the course and during the year. Two additional documents that may be helpful are the Safety in the Elementary Science Classroom manual from the American Chemical Society and the Science and Safety: It's Elementary! calendar from the Council for State Science Supervisors. An expanded list of resources can be found here.
At the end of the course, you will take an exam over the course content. A score of 80% or better is required to earn 3 CPEs and a certificate of completion.
** "TEA Science Safety Training for Elementary School" online course is intended as an introduction to science safety and is not meant to take the place of a complete safety training.**
By the end of the course, participants should be able to
- prepare, model, and instruct proper safety procedures and practices for students;
- plan, implement, and actively supervise appropriate science activities;
- monitor/maintain safety equipment, laboratory space, materials, and chemicals;
- and support science teachers and students in maintaining a safe learning environment.
Organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA) generate position statements on topics such as science inquiry, lab investigations, and safety. Click the link to NSTA to read the Position Statement on Safety and School Science Instruction.
Additional position statements can be located in Appendix B of the Texas Education Agency Texas Safety Standards.pdf document.
Classroom Safety and the Law
Federal and state laws, national standards, and local regulations and policies help inform and instruct educators and administrators in best safety practices in science so that all students can enjoy rich learning experiences during classroom activities and lab and field investigations.
In this lesson, you will become more familiar with the laws that will help guide your practice and protect you and your students from undue harm.
Students with Disabilities
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students with disabilities may not be excluded from participation in educational activities, programs, or services. This means that the classroom and lab setting may need modification to provide the least restrictive environment for students.
What accommodations should be made for a student who is hearing impaired, wheelchair bound, or vision impaired? Is the lab arranged so that equipment is accessible?
Equipment selection is also important for those students who have limited dexterity in motor skills. Think about those investigations that involve using a scalpel. Would scissors work as well? Should the scissors have larger or smaller handles, blunt or sharp tips? What about investigations that involve handling glassware? Would a plastic graduated cylinder or beaker work as well?
Discussion Topic: "Solutions to Accommodations"
All students have a right to access quality curriculum in the least restrictive environment. Yet, science teachers are faced with instructional challenges not found in other content areas due to the "hands-on" nature of our coursework. What accommodations have you made to successfully meet the learning needs of students with disabilities?"
For further information concerning IDEA, refer to Appendix A in the Texas Education Agency TexasSafety Standards.pdf file.
Safety in schools is everyone's responsibility. Districts ensure safety training, the availability of appropriate materials, and the availability and proper working order of safety equipment. District administrators facilitate maintenance of safe equipment and environments. Teachers reference safety standards, curricular standards, and consider the educational needs of students when selecting the proper equipment and materials for lab or field investigations.
Safety standards and laws enable school districts and employees to provide students with quality learning opportunities in the safest possible environment. Read the summary of the Safety and Tort law below from the Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Title 5. Refer to the Texas Education Agency Texas Safety Standards.pdf file under Appendix A for more information.
The State Board of Education has some rule-making authority and codifies rules under the Texas Administrative Code. The Commissioner of Education also has authority to adopt rules that pertain to certain areas of education. Rules are maintained in the Texas Register. The rules discussed in this section are coded 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Part II: Texas Education Agency. The number 19 refers to education. TAC stands for the Texas Administrative Code, and Part II refers to the Texas Education Agency.
There are chapters within 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Part II: Texas Education Agency that further address specific rules and TEA guidelines. For example, Chapter 112 contains the science Texas Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), including the requirement for 80% hands-on laboratory and field investigations for grades K–1, 60% for grades 2–3, and 50% for grades 4-5, while Chapter 61 details the standards regarding space for classrooms and science laboratories.
Chapter 38 requires teachers and students to use goggles during investigations that involve harmful materials or hazardous substances. You will want to keep one or two spare sets of goggles available for your principal or other classroom visitors.
Chapter 247 outlines the code of ethics for educators and requires teachers to
- comply with policies, state and federal laws, and regulations;
- protect students from detrimental conditions; and
- refrain from prejudicial actions such as favor or exclusion of students based on
- religious or socioeconomic reasons
Refer to the Texas Education Agency Texas Safety Standards.pdf file under Appendix A for more information about eye protection and the Code of Ethics.
Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals
A standardized system for labeling and classifying chemicals known as the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS) has been developed. Two primary areas of change involve labeling elements and standardization of Safety Data Sheets (SDS), formerly known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). The goal of this training is to provide updated information on the new labels that may appear on chemicals and on the new Safety Data Sheets (SDS) that may be received from chemical manufacturers.
Chemical Labels and Safety Data Sheets
The Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) was originally developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA®). The newly revised HCS focus is on the employees' right to understand the characteristics and hazards of chemicals in the workplace, whether it is a chemical industry or a school. Play the video below for a brief overview of HCS changes to labels and SDS.
Practice matching the pictograms to the appropriate descriptions in the activity below. Remember that pictograms are now included in chemical labels as well as SDS. To check your answers, refer to the web-linked file titled Pictograms.
There are several GHS training resources available to educators and staff. OSHA® has created a variety of publications such as reference cards about the changes to labels and SDS in both English and Spanish. Click the image of the Quick Card™ to the right to access the files.
Additionally, Flinn Scientific, Inc., has developed resources as well as a safety training video that meet the safety training requirements as outlined by OSHA®. Click GHS to access the video on YouTube™. When you have completed the video, close the window and return to the lesson.
Responsibility of Instruction
Benjamin Franklin is credited with the saying "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." We might infer the meaning of the quote as a reference to health and hygiene. However, it is reported that Franklin was actually referring to fire prevention since house fires were common in his era.
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Duplessis National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation //npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.87.43?destination=portraits/
As an elementary school science teacher, it is important to understand the types of experiences and training students have had prior to entering your classroom. Have they had experiences with science before? Which pieces of science equipment are students familiar with? Are students familiar with an eye/face wash or drench shower? Do they know how to prevent accidents from happening or how to respond if they do happen?
According to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for elementary school science, students are expected to demonstrate safe practices during lab and field investigations as well as demonstrate knowledge of the conservation of resources and proper use and disposal of materials. The implication for science teachers and students is that safety awareness, training, and practice are highly important as we proceed in exploring science content and concepts throughout the year. The sections in this lesson focus on field safety, proper use of safety equipment, chemical safety, and classroom responsibilities.
Lab Room Tour
Planning and implementing the initial lab room visit sets the standard of expectations for proper lab behavior, familiarizes students with equipment location and use, and provides an opportunity for students to review safe practices.
In this section, you will tour the virtual lab room to explore information about standard lab room equipment. Roll the cursor over each piece of equipment in order to read a brief description of what it does and how to it is used.
Do any of the wires in your lab or science area look like the wire pictured below?
You can also train students to monitor the conditions of electrical wires to prevent accidents.
Fire blankets are used to wrap around someone whose clothing or hair has caught on fire. After being wrapped in the blanket, the person must "stop, drop, and roll" to ensure the fire is completely smothered. First aid is then rendered according to the severity of the burns.
Fire extinguishers are categorized in one of four ways according to the type of fire they are designed for; however, some extinguishers are multipurpose. Science laboratories, science classrooms, storage rooms, and prep areas should all contain a multipurpose ABC extinguisher. Watch the following video to learn the proper use of a portable extinguisher.
Refer to the Texas Education Agency Texas Safety Standards.pdf file under Appendix G for more information about fire extinguishers.
Fire extinguishers must be inspected on a regular basis.
Eye/face wash stations are required in any science lab or classroom if hazardous chemicals are being used.
If eyes or areas of the face are exposed to chemicals or foreign objects, a student pushes the paddle forward to begin water flow. The paddle stays in the on position so that the exposed person can use both hands to hold his or her eyes open. Instruct the student to roll his or her eyes around so that all areas are flushed with water. After 15 minutes, return the paddle to its original position to stop the water flow.
It is important to make sure that the temperature of the water in the eye/face wash is between 60–90 °F, comfortable for sensitive eye tissues. Eye/face washes of the squeeze bottle type should never be used in a science classroom.
Eye/face wash stations should be checked once a month to make sure they are functioning properly and flushed weekly to clear obstructions or contaminants.
Hand washing is crucial after all scientific investigations, but especially at the elementary level. Students can pass the cold and flu virus rapidly when sharing materials. Elementary students are also more likely to engage in outdoor investigations and come in contact with classroom animals/plants. In any of these scenarios, it is very important to wash hands when the activity is complete. As the teacher, it is important for you to model this behavior consistently for your students.
Below are two videos; the first is a hand washing video more appropriate for primary students and the second is a hand washing video more appropriate for upper elementary students. View one or both and consider using these to prompt an instructive discussion regarding handwashing.
Have you had training in first aid measures? Could the teacher next door render first aid if you could not? Click the National Science Education Leadership Association article about responsibilities educators have regarding first aid and lab room safety. Click the First Aid Kit Supplies link from OSHA to read a list of standard supplies for a first aid kit.
Both teachers and students have responsibilities in the classroom to monitor and maintain safe conditions, practices, and processes. Many of the responsibilities overlap since teachers must inform and train students to actively maintain their awareness of safety considerations during lab investigations. As always, students, particularly those in grades 3–5, should read the full investigation prior to beginning their work. This will allow them to evaluate potential safety issues that could arise.
The chart below describes the roles and responsibilities of both teachers and students. Review the information in the chart to better acquaint yourself with each responsibility descriptor. A .pdf version of the chart is available for download.
Science Safety Contracts
All students should be provided with general safety instruction at the beginning of the school year. This instruction should be appropriate to the age of the students and involve scenarios that they might encounter during the year. At the completion of this instruction, students should sign a safety contract. The contract should also be signed by the parent or guardian. Sample science safety contracts have been provided for you. One sample is for upper elementary students and the other is for primary students. These are provided in an editable format to adapt for your own use.
As always, check with your campus or district to ensure you are following proper procedures for science safety contracts. Science safety should be attended to and incorporated throughout the school year so that safety is always at the forefront of each investigation.
Creating a Safety Plan
Do you have a safety plan in case an accident occurs? Does your school have a plan in place? In the event of an emergency, you may need extra support from the school nurse, another teacher, or an administrator. As part of your safety plan, consider assigning specific students in each class period as the "Safety Team." The Safety Team would be designated to alert specific school personnel in the event of an emergency.
Before implementing or practicing your emergency plan, make sure the adults involved are willing and able to render aid. Consider using a chart similar to the one below to document your plan. The first row of the chart is filled in as an example.
In addition, you may want to indicate the seriousness of the emergency by sending a colored pass with the designated runner—yellow for an emergency when you need support and red for more extreme cases when outside aid, such as an ambulance, is necessary.
After an accident, you will need to fill out an accident report and submit it to the campus administrator in charge of safety. A sample form is found in the Texas Education Agency Texas Safety Standards.pdf file. Locate Appendix D and scroll to the first document titled "Accident Report."
Discussion Topic: Safety Plans
Do you already have a safety plan in place in your classroom? How do you implement student training? Why is having a safety plan and practicing the procedures important? What other ideas do you have to improve on the safety plan described in this lesson?
Remember to discuss the safety plan with your students and appropriate school personnel, and designate time to practice with all parties involved.
Responsibility of Supervision
Teachers have a duty to supervise and monitor their students during lab activities and investigations as well as during regular class time. As you facilitate a lab or field investigation, you continually note student behavior that may or may not be in compliance with safety rules and standards.
- Is everyone using the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?
- Are the lab groups focused on the investigation or on each other?
- Is there opportunity for an accident?
- What disruption may occur?
This section examines facets of a teacher's duty to supervise.
Age-Appropriate Lab Equipment
Determine what equipment is required and appropriate for your grade level by referring to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for science; these TEKS were updated in 2010. It is your duty to determine if you have the equipment you need to teach the curriculum and then request any items you are lacking.
Here are some general guidelines for elementary science lab equipment:
- Glass beakers should be avoided for elementary investigations. Plastic beakers should be substituted whenever possible. When glass beakers are used, there must be close teacher supervision. A broom, dustpan, and a disposal container should all be located in the classroom when using glassware.
- Only alcohol thermometers should be used. Thermometers with aluminum backing are best. Mercury thermometers are not appropriate for scientific investigations in schools.
- Open flames are not appropriate for elementary investigations. Generally speaking, hot plates specifically designed for science investigations are the best choice.
Goggles are a necessary component of personal protective equipment. It is important for students to wear their goggles at all times when using materials or equipment that can irritate or damage the eyes. Sand, soils, liquids, objects with edges or points, and other substances could potentially blind a student who is not wearing his or her goggles.
Ensure that students have appropriately sized goggles; the goggles that a fifth grader wears will not fit a first grader and vice versa.
It is your responsibility to monitor students and ensure that they are wearing their goggles when required. There are several strategies to support student compliance, such as participation points or homework passes. You could post the Goggles Song (see below) in your lab and have students sing it when they are not wearing goggles appropriately or not at all. Try it out yourself!
Field Experiences and Handling Living Organisms
It is important to engage students in field experiences and/or handling living organisms with care.
- Visit the site before the experience to identify any potential hazards.
- Inform parents of the experience well in advance, including any particular clothing students would need to wear to participate.
- Check the weather conditions and bring sunscreen if engaging in long periods of outdoor activity.
- Investigations that cause pain or harm must never be performed on any animal.
- Animals that live in the classroom must be cared for and handled gently.
- Wild animals should not be handled by a student at any time.
- Work to ensure that the plant being investigated is not poisonous or an allergen to students.
- Remind students never to eat a plant unless they are told to do so.
- When growing plants in the classroom, use seeds that are not coated with chemicals; this is usually indicated by a green, pink, or blue coating.
- If possible, provide students with gloves when handling plants during an investigation.
Following any field investigation and/or handling of living organisms, both you and the students should thoroughly wash your hands.
Read the lab scenarios in the text window, and click all the safety symbols that apply to the activity. If all safety precautions are correctly identified, a new descriptor will appear in the text window. *Hint* In all cases the closed-toe shoes will be necessary!
Responsibility of Maintenance
Maintenance of Lab Equipment
Teachers have a duty to check the performance of lab equipment and lab safety equipment to ensure proper working order.
Goggles safety is especially important because students share them. It is imperative that goggles are sterilized between class periods on days when students are participating in lab investigations.
As part of the lab routine, have students place goggles back into the sanitizing cabinet before the end of the class period. Lock the cabinet and begin the 10-minute sanitizing process before the class is dismissed. In this way, students in the next class will have access to clean goggles.
Goggles cabinets are locked when in use because of the UV light source used to sanitize the goggles. Goggles cabinets include reflective inner surfaces so that UV rays emitted from the UV light source can sterilize all surfaces.
Keep a supply of new goggles or goggles lenses and head bands so that this important piece of personal protective gear is ready for use by the next budding scientist.
- You can also use alcohol wipes to sterilize goggles, but goggles should be taken apart and cleaned with warm soapy water occasionally.
- If a student in your classes has been found to have head lice, contact the school nurse to develop an appropriate course of action to prevent further infestations.
Keeping It Uncluttered and Organized
How does your science classroom, laboratory, or storeroom look? Do you train your students to return equipment to designated areas and then run out of time to put everything away?
Science teachers have a duty to maintain a clean and organized science instructional and storage environment. It is a matter of safety. For example, aisles are to remain clear in the event you or your students need to exit hurriedly.
Keeping a clean and organized space is one way to prevent accidents from occurring. A cluttered work area is more conducive to accidental spills, breakage, or possibly injury. Also, some chemicals, when stored close to one another, may cause a reaction that creates an unsafe environment. Chemicals and equipment should be put away in their proper storage areas to prevent contamination, oxidation, exposure, or accidents.
Schedule time with your science team to organize, label, and eliminate the clutter from your science classroom, lab, and storage room areas. Remember to post a sign to inform students that storage and prep rooms are off limits.
While we can all agree that science is messy, safety rules and guidelines demand that there is a structure to the process and an organized approach to using equipment and managing materials. It is up to you, when teaching science, to train students to investigate our world safely, creatively, and responsibly.
Schedule time each month to check safety equipment to make sure it is available and in working order. If any piece of equipment is not working properly, report it to the appropriate administrator immediately. Failure to report known hazards could expose you to liability. Practice the equipment check by clicking equipment in the virtual lab room. Roll the cursor over the clip board to document your inspection on a checklist.
Congratulations! You have completed the Science Safety Training for Elementary School.