The first week of the school year is predictable for a high-school science teacher. After establishing classroom routines and filling out paperwork, the first topic is always lab safety. There are dozens of ways to present this material, but there are some topics that always need to be covered. Here are the top three.
1. Eye Protection
Students should wear eye protection whenever they are handling glassware, heating liquids, or pouring chemicals. Concerns about the cleanliness of goggles shared by multiple students can be assuaged by the use of a storage cabinet equipped with an ultraviolet light. While not as rigorous as procedures used in more sophisticated bio-safety cabinet testing, this method kills a sufficient amount of pathogens for classroom purposes.
2. Fire Safety
Chemistry teachers must prepare students for the risks involved in using Bunsen burners on a regular basis. While students in other science classes may not use open flames, they do occasionally perform experiments involving hot plates, so they should also know what to do in case of fire. Explain the use of both a fire blanket and extinguisher, and be sure they understand that pouring water is not the most effective way to put out all types of fires.
3. Chemical Hazards
Most chemicals that high school students use are no more dangerous than items found in a home kitchen or bathroom. However, there are a few that can irritate the skin or nasal passages or cause mild poisoning if ingested. For this reason, students should learn the proper way to wear and remove protective gloves and to waft rather than sniff beakers full of chemicals.
Keeping students safe in the laboratory environment should be the top priority of any science teacher. The good news is that with a little planning, lab safety is simple and can be fun to teach.