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9 Housekeeping Tips for Science Educators

A clean lab is a safer lab. These nine housekeeping tips can help science teachers reduce the risk of lab accidents.

1. Location, location, location. Keep all lab equipment and materials in assigned places, such as cabinets and drawers, with labels, so you know where things are.

2. Keep it closed. Closed cabinets and drawers help prevent tripping. Severe injuries can happen if students or the teacher fall over an open drawer.

3. Equipment hygiene. Make sure all lab equipment is as clean as possible. For example, students are to clean glassware after completing an experiment. If biological, chemical, or physical residue accumulates, it can be hazardous in a variety of ways. For example, corrosive chemical residue could form on a glass beaker, which could burn a student.

4. Spills. Clean spills immediately. When liquid spills on a lab floor or counter, it can be dangerous. Floor spills can cause a person to slip and fall, and floor or counter spills can lead to electrical hazards. Safety training must emphasize that any type of spill in the lab should be cleaned up as quickly as possible.

5. Waste disposal. To prevent health and safety hazards, show students how to properly dispose of biological and chemical waste. Use designated chemical containers for products used during an experiment and completed chemical reactants. In the reaction Zn + HCl = H2 + ZnCl2, for example, the product of ZnCl2 should be placed in the appropriate chemical-resistant container. Make sure the containers are correctly labeled and do not mix products or chemical reactants with any other type of chemical reactant. Biohazardous waste should either be autoclaved in an unmarked bag and disposed of as ordinary trash or placed in a biohazard bin.

6. Cross contamination occurs when bacteria and chemicals transfer to books, book bags, clothing, and eyes. Place all items unrelated to the lab in appropriate storage areas to avoid cross contamination.

7. Personal protective equipment (PPE). Use appropriate PPE before, during, and after the lab activity, and also when cleaning spills or other materials.

8. Keep it clear. Never place items in aisles or exit pathways or in front of the eyewash station or shower.

9. Chemical storage. Make sure chemicals have the OSHA-required (U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Globally Harmonized System (GHS) labeling, so that the chemical name and other safety information is readily available for proper handling, storage, and disposal.

In the end

To ensure that your lab is as clean—and safe—as possible, also follow the OSHA housekeeping standards (see Resources) and NSTA’s recommended lab practices (see Resources). Inspect the lab after any activity to ensure that students have addressed housekeeping issues.

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at safesci@sbcglobal.net, or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

Resources

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). 2013. Safety in the science classroom, laboratory, or field sites. www.nsta.org/docs/SafetyInTheScienceClassroomLabAndField.pdf
OSHA Flammable Liquid Standard (29 CFR 1910.106)—www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9752
OSHA Handling materials Standard (29 CFR 1910.176)—www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9824
OSHA Sanitation Standard (29 CFR 1910.141)— www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9790
OSHA Walking Working Housekeeping (29 CFR 1910.22)—
www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9714

NSTA resources and safety issue papers
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19 Comments

  1. Dr. Ken
    Posted November 12, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Housekeeping & Getting Rid of Old Equipment

    I received this question for the safety blog and was asked to post it. The teacher requested to remain anonymous.

    Great housekeeping article! I am a physics teacher at a high school. My lab has housekeeping issues because my superintendent refuses to let us get rid of old and out dated equipment. The concern is local town’s people might see this stuff at the land fill and start complaining about wasting of tax payers money. HELP?

  2. Mary Anne Butler
    Posted November 12, 2016 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I am a science consultant and run leadership seminars for science supervisors and administrators. I would like permission to reprint your housekeeping strategy list in my resource book which is shared at the seminars. This would be a great list to share with science leadership working in the trenches. I would include the appropriate credits. I was wondering if you would grant me permission to do so.

    Thanks in advance –

    Mary Anne Butler

  3. Dr. Ken
    Posted November 12, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    PERMISSION TO USE BLOG INFORMATION

    Mary Anne – Thanks for the request to use information I posted in the Housekeeping blog commentary. Absolutely! Please feel free to use any commentary information in efforts to “share the safety wealth!” Getting the word out there to prevent accidents is what we are all about! Also thanks for providing the credits.

    Dr. Ken

  4. Dr. Ken
    Posted November 12, 2016 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Dr. Ken’s Response to “Housekeeping & Getting Rid of Old Equipment”

    Great question! First of all, be aware that should a student or other employee get hurt in your lab because of a major housekeeping issue, there could be shared liability for you given you are considered the “lab supervisor.”

    I would recommend the following strategies –

    1. Share your concern with the appropriate administrators including your principal and superintendent. They need to understand it is unsafe in the lab to have this old equipment in the way. There are potential slip/trip fall hazards, electrical hazards, fire hazards, sharp hazards, etc. They also need to be aware of OSHA housekeeping standards (just Google “OSHA Housekeeping Standards) which they are required to enforce. If your school district is not directly under OSHA, there also are also better professional practices which must be followed relative to lab housekeeping. Make sure you also put this in writing and keep a copy.

    2. If there is no progress resulting from this request, I would contact my union representative and have them help to resolve the issue. The union also would have several options including speaking with the administration to resolve the problem (first step!), contacting the local fire marshal and/or contacting OSHA. If all else fails, I would suggest the union contact the school’s insurance carrier and ask for an inspection to come out.

    One final thought, some school districts hold recycled furniture/equipment opportunities in the form of a school tag sale. Anything that does not sell is then sent to the landfill. In that case there is much less “negative press” for the BOE!

    By the sounds of things, this is a major problem in your lab and an accident waiting to happen. Good luck and let us know how it works out. I am sure others would profit from your experience.

    Dr. Ken

  5. Sara
    Posted February 3, 2017 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    This blog is very informational and shows me exactly how to ensure my students and I complete experiments safely. I am a second grade teacher who is beginning to look closer at science with my students and add more experiments. I do not have a science lab that I using but will be able to use this information in my classroom. This is also valuable information that I can ensure my students will use when they are in a true science lab.

  6. Dr. Ken
    Posted February 3, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Sara…Thanks for the support…If you have any other safety questions..Don’t hesitate to post them on the safety blog…This is what sharing and helping each other to be safer is all about.

    Appreciated..

    Dr. Ken

  7. Elissa Hipps
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I found the information in this blog to be very helpful when it comes to making sure my students are safe as they complete experiments. Each of the tips are very simple and easy to follow, but all of the basics are covered and it serves as a great reminder for not only my students, but for me as the teacher as well. I am a fourth grade teacher at a Title I school. We do not have a science lab and our materials are limited, however we are working very hard to include more experiments and project based learning with the resources that we do have in our own classrooms. While my students might not be able to implement all of this information in a general classroom setting, it will still be very valuable to them in the future in middle school and high school when they have the opportunity to complete experiments in a real science lab. Thank you for sharing these wonderful tips!

  8. Dr. Ken
    Posted February 27, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Ken’s Response to Ellisa Hipps’ Comment:

    Ellisa – thanks for the “NSTA Blog” kudos! Most appreciated. It is people like you sending in your questions, concerns, and need for more information about keeping your students and yourselves safer in the classroom or lab while having students enjoy hands-on science demos and activities that make this blog viable. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if there is any thing else you need help with.

    Dr. Ken

  9. Cynthia
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Great information! I teach 4th grade and although lab time and space are very limited, I see how how I can ensure safety for all my students. This information can and will be used schoolwide as we strive to achieve our STEAM status.

  10. Christie M.
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    This blog was full of very helpful tips to ensure the safety of my students during experiments. These tips are easy to follow, but serve as a great reminder about the importance of safety during Science experiments. I teach fourth grade at a Title I school. We have a S.T.E.A.M lab but our materials are limited. We are currently making the transition to teach using more hands on experiments and project based learning using what little resources we have in our classroom. Thank you for this valuable information. I look forward to using this in my class.

  11. Dr. Ken
    Posted March 2, 2017 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Ken’s Response to Cynthia’s and Christie’s Comments:

    Wow! This is just great to hear from both of you on the same day about how the Safety Blog info is helping you!! Please don’t hesitate to send in your questions to me on the NSTA Safety Blog in the future. Remember – if you are thinking about a potential safety issue – be assured there are other colleagues out there with the same concerns!!!

    Have a safer day!!

    Dr. Ken

  12. Hadley Duncan
    Posted March 4, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Thank you Dr. Ken, I have always been an organizational fanatic! If things are organized in a way where they easy to find, then the activity or experiment will go much smoother. I am an 3rd grade ESOL teacher. Many of my students struggle with content vocabulary and some do not know any English. My science lab is labeled with the Spanish translation below the English words. (That is the majority of my demographics) It’s very important that my students are clear on their directions and expectations before starting a science activity or experiment of any kind. Although we do not use many of the “chemical” items that you mentioned, safety must come first in regard to the ages that we are teaching.

  13. Jennifer
    Posted March 4, 2017 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    This blog gave me lots of information on how to make sure my students can complete science experiments safely. I am a first grade teacher and while our resources are quite limited at this time, this certainly provided useful information as we work toward becoming S.T.E.A.M. certified and doing more project based learning with our students.

  14. Dr. Ken
    Posted March 4, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Ken’s Response to Jennifer’s Comment:

    Keep that good news coming Jen – Thanks for the kind words – stay tuned – more coming soon in this month’s commentary!!!

    Thanks again –

    Dr. Ken

  15. Dr. Ken
    Posted March 4, 2017 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Ken’s Response to Hadley Duncan’s Comment:

    Hadley – Right on!! Organizational skills are just key and a great habit to develop at a young age. I was especially encouraged by your statement about clear directions and expectations! This is true when it comes to safety. One slight alteration in a procedure could be bad news safety-wise. Stay tuned to the blog – much more to come and please – don’t be shy about asking if you need to know more about a safety item.

    Thanks again –

    Dr. Ken

  16. Dena T.
    Posted March 6, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Thank you for your investment in science educators and for a comprehensive, accessible resource for safety concerns and questions. As the lone middle school science teacher in a rural private school, I am thankful for a resource that helps me stay current in topics in safety as it relates to issues in my classroom.

  17. Dr. Ken
    Posted March 6, 2017 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Ken’s Response to Dena T’s Comment:

    Dena – kind words! It is really an investment in all of us. I also want to send kudos to the NSTA for supporting this popular safety blog. It obviously is meeting a real needs out there in the trenches. As always – keep those safety questions and concerns coming. If it is a concern for you – it is a concern for others!

    Stay safer –

    Dr. Ken

  18. Teresa D;Amelio
    Posted March 8, 2017 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Dr. Ken,

    As always your articles are very informative and helpful.
    thank you for being such a great resource on school lab safety.
    Teresa D’Amelio

  19. Kenneth Roy
    Posted March 8, 2017 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Dr. Ken’s Response to Teresa D’Amelio’s Comment:

    Teresa – Appreciate your kind comments about the NSTA Safety Blog as a great resource….Dr. Ken

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