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How to Safeguard Your Lab

Many of the chemicals on the Department of Homeland Security’s Anti-Terrorism Standards Chemicals of Interest List can be found in high school storerooms. These chemicals may be prone to theft and unauthorized lab experiments. Some terrorist websites have even suggested that their operatives pose as students to acquire hazardous chemical, biological, or radiological agents (NAP 2011).

To meet this challenge, science teachers, their supervisors, and administrators need to provide a secure working environment by making their labs more secure.

Prevention strategies for workplace security

California/OSHA has guidelines for creating prevention strategies for workplace security. They include:

• a system ensuring that all employees comply with work practices designed to make the workplace more secure and do not engage in threats or physical actions, which would create a security hazard in the workplace.

• a system for communicating with employees about workplace security hazards, including a way to inform the employer of security hazards at the worksite without fear of reprisal.

• procedures for identifying workplace security hazards, including scheduled periodic inspections to identify unsafe work conditions and practices.

• procedures for investigating occupational injury or illness arising from a workplace assault or threat of assault.

• procedures for correcting unsafe work conditions, work practices, and work procedures, including workplace security hazards and procedures for protecting employees from physical retaliation for reporting threats.

• training and instruction about workplace security hazards, measures to prevent workplace assaults, and what to do when an assault occurs, including emergency action and post-emergency procedures.

Secure labs

To improve safety and security in school science laboratories, preparation rooms, and storerooms:

• entrances, exits, stairways, and hallways need to be kept clear to allow for safer evacuation.

• evacuation plans and emergency numbers should be posted in appropriate sites. All laboratories, preparation rooms, and storerooms should have access to a phone or intercom in case of emergency per OSHA’s Emergency Evacuation Plans standard 1910.38.

• all chemicals must be properly labeled, dated, and stored per the OSHA HazCom Standard.

• use appropriate housekeeping to reduce or eliminate trip and fall hazards, provide adequate clearance of sprinkler systems, provide access to emergency equipment, and have an unobstructed exit per the OSHA Housekeeping Standards.

• all doors should remain closed and locked whether occupied or unoccupied. Only science teachers, administrators, and custodians should have keys to laboratories, storerooms, preparation rooms, and chemical storerooms housing hazardous chemicals.

• emergency lighting should be available to assist evacuation in power outages as appropriate. The lighting should be inspected periodically to ensure operation per Emergency Lighting and Exit Sign Requirements.

• all laboratories, preparation rooms, and storerooms should have master gas shutoffs with appropriate signage and easy access.

Secure schools

Several recommended procedures for workplace security and safety in the school facility will help raise employees’ awareness, which is critical to make a school more secure and safer. Schools should adhere to the following recommendations.

• There needs to be a designated entrance and receptionist area to control access to the school. All remaining entrance doors should be locked.

• Once signed in, visitors should be escorted to designated work areas by employees.

• All employees should be required to wear visible photo identification badges.

• Employees should be trained to approach unaccompanied strangers in the workplace by asking to see their identification or visitor badge.

• Employees should be trained and be provided with vinyl gloves to sort mail. Protocols should be in place to deal with suspicious items.

• Employers should develop lockout, lockdown, shelter, and evacuation procedures for employees and students. Appropriate drills should be exercised per government regulations.

What’s more, OSHA requires schools to have emergency preparedness plans as part of their security programs. They include:

• alerting employees when there is a security issue or threat at the workplace site,

• emergency escape procedures and escape route assignments,

• procedures for employees who remain behind to correct the emergency situation,

• procedures to account for all employees after an evacuation,

• rescue and medical duties for employees with those responsibilities,

• procedures for reporting fires or other emergencies, and

• names and titles of people to contact for explanations or further instructions.

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

National Academies Press (NAP). 2011. Prudent practices in the laboratory: Handling and management of chemical hazards. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

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