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Chemistry Lab Safety: Tips for Student Participation

written by: chemteacher • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 1/4/2012

Chemistry teachers have a responsibility to keep their students safe in lab. To avoid injury (and potential lawsuits) get all your students on board with basic safety precautions. These tips should help!

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    Start with Goggles

    I can already hear the moans, the complaints, but don’t let that sway you. Not only do goggles protect vision, it signals students that they are working with hazardous materials and should be careful. To make this point, I have a well-known teacher walk into my class while I’m teaching and toss a pie in my face (I’m wearing goggles, of course!) Not only are the kids riveted on what happened, they have a great visual of the protected area and you have a reference to use for the rest of the year.

    To encourage compliance with goggle use, some teachers have instituted a guest visitor policy. Place a pair or two of goggles near the entrance to your classroom. Every time a visitor enters the room during a lab, he or she must wear the goggles .Students love it when the principal stops by and has to follow the same rules as everyone else. Other teachers have “pay up” policies, where students “pay” for being caught without their goggles on, either with cookies for the class, quarters for charity, or time cleaning out test tubes.

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    A Clean Lab is a Safe Lab

    Take a few minutes to organize your classroom before the school year starts. Make sure drawers and chemicals are clearly labeled, and that glassware doesn’t have any minute cracks. Additionally, I like to have my students create a map of the classroom (or do a scaenger hunt) and label things like:

    • Fire extinguisher
    • Goggle cabinet
    • Eye wash
    • Lab aprons
    • Baking soda for acid spills
    • Hood
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    Student Participation is Key

    If we want students to remember what we teach about lab safety, it helps to have their participation.In addition to mapping out the lab, I also suggest you engage students with activities that demonstrate some of the dangers of the materials you'll be working with. You may even want to let students make a lab safety video showing what to in case of acid spills, fire, etc. This also makes a great extra credit project.

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    Put It in Writing

    Another way that students know you are serious about safety is to put it in writing and give it a grade. I suggest using Flinn Scientific’s Lab Safety Contract and Lab Safety Quiz. In addition, I like to give students a Ready for Lab Quiz where I ask them to dress for lab, light a bunsen burner, measure liquid with a graduated cylinder, and weigh chemicals on the balance.

    You are a role model in your class. Stick to the same rules you give your students, and they’ll be much more likely to follow your examples. Use some of these ideas to make lab safety in your classroom memorable and fun and you’ll be off to a great start this year.