Safety in the Science Classroom

General Safety

Safety in any classroom should be of the utmost importance to teachers, administrators, and parents.  Students need to be in an environment that is safe so they can focus on learning and the teacher can focus on teaching without being distracted by hazardous or unsafe conditions.  In the science classroom, teachers have to especially diligent to ensure a safe environment based on the many different components of the curriculum that can prove hazardous in unsupervised situations.  It is very possible that within the course of a year in a science class students will work with noxious chemicals, heat or flame sources, animals, and other activities that may pose problems for unprepared teachers.  Teachers need to be aware of all the risks of their current lesson as well as the specific actions needed in the case that an accident does occur.  They should have a plan for their specific classroom that follows the format agreed upon by the entire school with the approval of administrators.  These plans should coincide with state and federal regulations. 


Specific Situations

Two specific situations that require safety considerations in the science classroom are listed below.  In each, I will address

    1. The SPECIFIC materials that require safety attention.
    2. Specific actions you would take to manage this safety situation
    3. Appropriate ways in which you would teach your students how to deal with the safety related to the situations you describe.


Situation 1:

Students in your middle school physics classroom are doing a lab on acceleration and velocity.  They are to go outside and measure the time it takes to run a certain distance. 


A)    There are always certain safety precautions to take when students are going outside.  In this case, students would need appropriate clothing; specifically footwear.  If the students are going to be running, they should be wearing appropriate tennis shoes or sneakers that ensure safety.  High heels or other dress shoes would pose a safety issue.  If the weather is cold or rainy, actions need to be taken to ensure the children minimize exposure to harmful elements.  Because these safety elements have to do with appropriate dress that is essentially out of my hands, I must make sure the students are aware that this lab is coming up a few days in advance so they know to dress appropriately that day.  I must also become aware of the health needs of the students.  If a student has asthma concerns, appropriate adjustments would be needed to ensure that student could complete the lab without having an attack.  Other outdoor dangers such as allergies (bees or otherwise) should also be considered.

B)   To manage this situation safely, I would need to be able to have some control on the environment the students were using.  This means choosing a location that would be safe for the students to be running in (not a busy street) as well as giving me the ability to see all of them at all times.  Ideally, this activity would be done on a school track where I could see all the students and where they would be running in a circle (as opposed to straight away where they may get harder to see).  I would also have to ensure the students were managing the project well.  Students who are on task are less likely to get in trouble safety wise.  To do this I would pair the students up, giving one student and clipboard and stopwatch.  While one student runs, the other times and records.  Then the students switch.  I would have to manage these materials, making sure each group brought out and returned with their materials.

C)   Since this activity’s safety issues mainly have to do with being outside, I would need to remind the kids about appropriate outside behavior.  I would tell them that while we are running, we still want to be safe and remind them about the safety measures if there is an accident or injury.  The students should be aware to come to the teacher if there is any problems (fall, bee sting, etc.) and I will act accordingly.  I will need to know the location of the closest first aid kits if necessary.  The administrators of the school will also be made aware of where we are going, and when we will be there so that they know where to find us in the case of an emergency. 


Situation 2:

Students in your 7th grade science classroom will create a working volcano.  This procedure can be seen in the critical task section.



A)   Students will be working with multiple materials that require safety attention in this lab.  First and foremost, the students will be working with common cooking materials such as flour, salt, oil, and water.  While these ingredients are commonly found in a kitchen, I will remind the students that we never eat anything from lab unless instructed to do so.  These simple elements could become mixed with something hazardous to our health and as such it would be a bad idea to ingest.  Students will also be working with detergent, vinegar, and baking soda, the combination of which creates a chemical reaction.   There will be a release of gas and movement of liquid in the experiment, both of which will need to be monitored.

B)   Specifically, since a chemical reaction is taking place, I will instruct the students that we will be wearing safety goggles and aprons.  While it is unlikely that this reaction will become explosive to the point of necessity of these items, it is good practice for later labs which will be similar and more dangerous.  The students must be made aware of the consequences of closing a reacting system.  Since they are working with the expansion of gasses, they can probably guess what will happen if the top of the bottle is blocked and the gas has nowhere to go: explosion.  They should take care to insure this does not happen.  Since this is an individual project, each student will be progressing at their own pace but it will be a good idea to make every student wait to mix the final ingredients together so that I can adequately monitor each reaction.  This would allow me to control when and how much of the reagents are given out so students are not left make mistakes of proportions.  As such, it would be wise to have the materials pre-measured for this age group.   Lastly, since the whole idea of the lab is to have a volcano erupt, I should have appropriate workstations set up such as in a tray with sides so the “lava” doesn’t spread everywhere.

C)   I would reinforce some of the safety considerations in this lab throughout the lesson, such as the work on gasses in a closed system.  This lab would also be done after students received some formal training in lab safety so they understood the necessity for lab goggles and aprons.  In the unlikely event that gasses or chemicals do get in the students eyes, I will have instructed them on the location and uses of the eye wash in our classroom.  The reaction is too weak to burn the skin, but can definitely be irritating to the eyes.  The students should overall be instructed to follow the procedure exactly, not to eat any materials, and wait for supervision when running the reaction.


OSHA Regulations

OSHA regulations refer to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  These are regulations which ensure a safe and healthy workplace for employees.  A teacher needs to keep these in mind because the classroom is the workplace of the students.  They must be in a safe environment so that they can effectively learn without worrying about hazardous conditions.  An example of when these standards would come into play would be the use of a heating mantle, Bunsen burner, or other open flame or heating source.  Because these are potentially sources of fire, teachers and administrators need to be aware and implement effective fire safety plans as listed in these guidelines from the OSHA website:

  • 1910 Subpart E, Exit routes, emergency action plans, and fire prevention plans [related topic page]
    • 1910.35, Compliance with NFPA 101-2000, Life Safety Code
    • 1910.36, Design and construction requirements for exit routes
    • 1910.37, Maintenance, safeguards, and operational features for exit routes
    • 1910.38, Emergency action plans
    • 1910.39, Fire prevention plans


Classroom Pets

Classroom pets often serve as a great supplemental tool for learning.  They are effective in working with biology as students learn about the developments and different features of animals.  They are also very useful in teaching students about responsibility when the duty of care is placed on the kid’s shoulders rather than the teacher’s.  An ideal classroom pet is engaging but not dangerous to the students.  It can be used in specific lessons, but is not a distraction at other times.  It also must be somewhat durable (kids can be rough).  A great example that has worked will in countless science classrooms is an Iguana. 


Sometimes, a pet is not the best idea is a classroom.  Many times this will depend on the maturity level of the students and whether they are ready to care for an animal.  Some animals are economically unfeasible for a classroom and may in some cases be dangerous to the students.  Furry animals can often be an allergen hazard.  While they do provide educational opportunities for certain lessons, they can also be distracting at times when students’ attention should be elsewhere.  Hermit crabs are an example of a bad classroom pet.  They are easily agitated by loud noises, making them prone to pinching.  They also have been known to smell, creating a classroom distraction.




Lab safety is also considered in one of the lessons I taught, seen here.



Published on November 23, 2008 at 9:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

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