Make certain all of your science experiments are safe! You’ll probably need:

  • goggles
  • gloves
  • paper towels
  • aprons
  • space!

Most importantly:

Safe science classrooms require thorough planning, careful management, and constant monitoring of student activities. The teacher’s good judgment is a powerful tool in preventing unnecessary risks and crises. Use your good judgment– would you feel comfortable if your students’ parents and the principal were in the room watching your lesson? Do you feel that each and every one of your students is out of harm’s way?

The most common safety issues are wet floors (children will spill water- it is inevitable!). Spills must be marked or cleaned up immediately. Assigning a student the job of science safety monitor on a rotating basis is a very good idea. This student could be responsible for cleaning up water spills and disposing of any broken lab materials.

Students must know how to follow safety guidelines, demonstrate appropriate laboratory safety techniques, and use equipment safely while working individually and in groups. Safety must be given the highest priority in implementing the K-12 instructional program for science. Correct and safe techniques, as well as wise selection of experiments, resources, materials, and field experiences appropriate to age levels, must be carefully considered with regard to the safety precautions for every instructional activity.

Class enrollment should not exceed the designed capacity of the room. Teachers must be knowledgeable of the properties, use, and proper disposal of all chemicals that may be judged as hazardous prior to their use in an instructional activity.

The Virginia Standards of Learning directly address safety:

The use of human body fluids or tissues is generally prohibited for classroom lab activities. (Blood typing is probably an experiment of the past in our AIDS conscious society.)

While no comprehensive list exists to cover all situations, the following should be reviewed to avoid potential safety problems. Appropriate safety procedures should be used in the following situations:

  • Observing wildlife; handling living and preserved organisms; and contact with natural hazards such as poison ivy, ticks, mushrooms, insects, spiders, and snakes
  • Field activities in, near, or over bodies of water
  • Handling of glass tubing, sharp objects, glassware, and other lab materials
  • Natural gas burners, Bunsen burners, and other sources of flame/heat
  • Hazards associated with direct sunlight (sunburn and eye damage)
  • Use of extreme temperatures and cryogenic materials
  • Hazardous chemicals including toxins, carcinogens, flammable and explosive materials
  • Acid/base neutralization reactions/dilutions
  • Production of toxic gases or situations where high pressures are generated
  • Biological cultures, their appropriate disposal, and recombinant DNA
  • Power equipment/motors
  • High voltage/exposed wiring

Laser beam, UV, and other radiation. Further guidance from the following sources may be taken into account:

  • OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)
  • ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair Rules)
  • Public health departments and local school division protocols.


The legal definition of negligence is important for every teacher to know. Negligence, as defined by the courts today, is conduct that falls below a standard of care established by law or profession to protect others from an unreasonable risk of harm, or the failure to exercise due care. It should be noted that in the absence of specific laws or local policies, the standard of care expected is set by the profession, e.g., position statements adopted by the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT), the American Chemical Society (ACS), or the Council of State Science Supervisors (CSSS).

The science teacher has three basic duties relating to the modern concept of negligence:

  1. Duty of instruction
  2. Duty of supervision
  3. Duty to properly maintain facilities and equipment
  4. Failure to perform any duty may result in a finding that a teacher and/or administrator within a school system is/are liable for damages and a judgment and award against him/them.

Duty of Instruction includes adequate instruction before a laboratory activity (preferably in writing) that:

  • is accurate; is appropriate to the situation, setting, and maturity of the audience; and addresses reasonably foreseeable dangers.
  • identifies and clarifies any specific risk involved, explains proper procedures/techniques to be used, and presents comments concerning appropriate/inappropriate conduct in the lab.
  • Instruction must follow professional and district guidelines.
  • Teachers who set bad examples by not following proper lab procedures may be sued if injury results from students following the teacher’s bad examples.

Duty of Supervision includes adequate supervision as defined by professional, legal, and district guidelines to ensure students behave properly in light of any foreseeable dangers. Points to remember:

  • misbehavior of any type must not be tolerated
  • failure to act or improper action is grounds for liability
  • the greater the degree of danger, the higher the level of supervision should be
  • the younger the age of students or the greater the degree of inclusion of special population students, the greater the level of supervision should be
  • students may never be left unattended, except in an emergency where the potential harm is greater than the perceived risk to students. Even then, risk should be minimized or responsibility transferred to another authorized person if the situation allows.

Duty of Maintenance includes ensuring a safe environment for students and teachers. This requires that the teacher:

  • never use defective equipment for any reason
  • file written reports for maintenance/correction of hazardous conditions or defective equipment with responsible administrators.
  • establish regular inspection schedules and procedures for checking safety and first-aid equipment.
  • follow all safety guidelines concerning proper labeling, storage, and disposal of chemicals.
  • By keeping files of all hazardous notifications and maintenance inspections, teacher liability in the event of an accident is minimized in cases where no corrective actions were subsequently made.

Science Safety Checklist

  1. Have appropriate protective equipment. You should have American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87 or Z87.1 coded goggles, chemical aprons, non-allergenic gloves, dust masks, eyewash, shower(s), ABC fire extinguisher(s), sand bucket(s), fire blanket(s), in easily accessible locations. (General rule is accessibility within 15 seconds or 30 steps from any location in the room.) Make certain that the instructor and students wear adequate protective equipment, including safety goggles and aprons, when experiments involving hazardous chemicals or procedures are conducted.
  2. Notify supervisors immediately of hazardous or potentially hazardous conditions, such as lack of Ground-Fault Interrupters (GFIs) near sinks, inadequate ventilation, or potential hazards. For instance, study halls scheduled in laboratories or tile floors not waxed with non-skid wax pose safety hazards.
  3. Check the fume hood regularly for efficiency and never use the hood as a storage area. Ensure that the hood is vented properly through the roof.
  4. Use only equipment in good condition (not broken) and efficient working order.
  5. Have a goggle sanitation plan for goggles used by multiple classes per day.
  6. Have separate disposal containers for broken glassware or flammables.
  7. Discuss and post emergency/escape and notification plans/numbers in each room/lab. Clearly mark fire exits, and keep exits (preferably two from laboratories) unobstructed.
  8. Have and enforce a safety contract with students and parents.
  9. Identify medical and allergy problems for each student to foresee potential hazards.
  10. Model, post, and enforce all safety procedures. Display safety posters.
  11. Keep laboratory uncluttered and locked when not in use or when teacher is not present.
  12. Know district and state policies concerning administering first aid and have an adequately stocked first-aid kit accessible at all times.
  13. Know and follow district and state policies/guidelines for use of hazardous chemicals, live animals, and animal and plant specimens in the classroom/laboratory.
  14. Report all injuries, including animal scratches, bites, and allergic reactions, immediately to appropriate supervisors.
  15. Keep records on safety training and laboratory incidents.
  16. Provide the number of accessible lab stations having sufficient workspace (60 square feet or 5.6 square meters) workspace per student; 5 foot or 1.5 meters wide aisles and low lab table sections for wheelchair accessibility that can be supervised by the number of qualified teachers/aides present (maximum 24:1).
  17. Have master cut-off switches/valves within each laboratory (preferably in one secure location); know how to use them; and keep water, gas, and electricity turned off when not in use.
  18. Maintain up-to-date chemical and equipment inventories, including Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) files.
  19. Label equipment and chemicals adequately with respect to hazards and other needed information.
  20. Post the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) “diamond” at all chemical storeroom entrances denoting the most hazardous chemical in each category within. Regularly send an updated copy of the inventory to the local fire department.
  21. Organize chemical storerooms properly. Arrange chemicals by National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)/Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compatibility classes, with special storage available for oxidizers, non-flammable compressed gases, acids, and flammables.
  22. Store chemicals in appropriate places. Chemicals are best stored below eye level. Also, ensure that large containers are no higher than 2 feet (.6 meters) above floor, acids are in corrosives cabinets, and solvents are in OSHA/NFPA approved flammables cabinets—with acids physically separated from bases and oxidizers physically separated from organics with secure, limited access, adequately ventilated storerooms. Chemical shelving should be wooden, with a front lip and without metal supports.
  23. Provide in a readily accessible location appropriate materials and procedures for clean-up of hazardous spills and accidents, e.g., aspirator or kit for mercury spills, vermiculite and baking soda for acids, and 10% Clorox bleach solution or 5% Lysol solution for body fluids, and appropriate procedures for disposal of chemo- and bio-hazardous materials.
  24. Prohibit the use of pathogens or any procedures or materials in any school laboratory above Biosafety Level 1 as outlined by Centers for Disease Control/National Institutes of Health protocols.
  25. Keep live animals and students adequately protected from one another.