Laboratory safety training in educators has become an increasingly studied issue. Although there are some drawbacks, there are multiple benefits to training and providing educators information about laboratory safety. When educators are formally trained in laboratory safety, they are better able to demonstrate proper techniques their students can learn. Formally trained educators are also able to think critically during experiments and adjust methods to optimize safety. However, issues arise with paying for teachers to be trained. Who will pay for educators to be trained, the teacher’s themselves or the state? There is also the issue of who will train them and how often training needs to be renewed. Should teachers renew their laboratory safety training every year, every 5 years, or longer? The data from my research will provide a better understanding of this issue so that steps can be taken to work towards answering these questions.
In order to have a better understanding of the lack of educator training in laboratory safety, I plan to utilize electronic surveys. The surveys will be sent to schools across the United States through survey platforms, collecting data about the number of educators who have received formal laboratory safety training. Once the data is collected, the results will be compared to laboratory accident reports from OSHA. From this data, we can have a better understanding about how much emphasis is put on educator training in the United States as a whole, and what types of changes need to be made on the federal or state level. Making an assumption that federal and state laws and statutes implores automatic adherence to laboratory safety issues is an ongoing risk that must be mitigated.
Academic institutions are facilities meant to inspire and educate young minds in a safe and secure environment. Every day students go to school, trusting that their educators will keep them safe. One of the most dangerous places in schools is the science classroom. Science classrooms are filled with different hazards that can cause varying degrees of harm. With constant changes to safety regulations and rising expenses in safety equipment, it is difficult for many schools to keep teachers and administrators properly trained in laboratory safety procedures. School districts also put more emphasis on teaching students rather than having their instructors participate in laboratory safety programs. Untrained instructors are not able to appropriately instill proper laboratory techniques into their students. A higher number of laboratory accidents can result as a consequence of this issue.
When educators are not properly trained in laboratory safety procedures, their students ultimately learn and continue to use improper and unsafe laboratory behavior throughout their academic career, resulting in an increased rate of laboratory accidents. In a study conducted by Dr. Korbusieski, North Carolina principles were surveyed about their knowledge in laboratory safety procedures (Stroud, Stallings, & Korbusieski, 2007). Only one-third of the principles that responded had any former laboratory safety training (Stroud, Stallings, & Korbusieski, 2007). The safety of students should be the highest priority of school districts. When educators are not properly trained or fail to properly create a safe learning environment, there are dire consequences with injuries resulting in death. The issue of properly training faculty and staff in laboratory safety has existed for many years, but it wasn’t until recently that the issue became more published.
Properly training educators in laboratory safety has been an issue since laboratory work has been taught in schools; however, this issue became worse more recently. In 1990, laboratory standards were introduced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), including the Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP), label information, and safety data sheets (Hill, 2016). These introductions proved to be beneficial in academic institutions. The hiring of safety professionals to assist in the safety programs of the institutions was most notably effective (Hill, 2016) and resulted in more employees receiving appropriate laboratory safety training. Although it was beneficial to introduce training to employees, this new introduction consequently was also included as part of the “safety program” learned by undergraduate students (Hill, 2016).
The inclusion of employee safety training for educators at some universities has caused students to miss out on their own training. It is thought that since employees are trained in safety, it is not necessary for the students to have formal training. Educators at these universities are expected to know laboratory safety precautions, however, students are not. These students ultimately lack the ability to think critically about safety because safety training was not a key component in their education (Hill, 2016). This becomes an issue because many of these students go on to become science teachers and become responsible for the safety of a classroom. When they do not demonstrate proper laboratory technique as educators, students ingrain behaviors that are not responsible or safe in laboratory settings. If students do not understand proper laboratory safety measures, they can unintentionally injure themselves. This issue ultimately creates a cycle of individuals who cannot maintain the safety of individuals during laboratory experiments.
Laboratory safety has become an increased priority in the scientific community. Prior to the OSHA regulations from 1990, there were no laboratory safety regulations (Hill, 2016). In recent years, more materials have been published about laboratory safety. In 2010, the first universal laboratory safety textbook was published for educators to use (Fivizzani, 2016). The ACS Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS) has also provided the Safety in Academic Chemistry Laboratories (SACL) as a reference for educators (Fivizzani, 2016). Increase in the use and availability of technological resources have also played a crucial role in advocating for proper safety training. Further research is needed to better understand how large of an impact that untrained educators have on laboratory-related accidents.
States with little to no educator training in laboratory safety procedures will have increased incidents of laboratory-related injuries in students and staff. In order to explore this thesis, I plan to distribute surveys to educators across the United States. Participants in this research will come from science teachers and principals from every school. Surveys will be created electronically and the link to the survey will be sent through larger platforms such as SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics, or Typeform. The surveys will have multiple questions pertaining to the level of laboratory safety that an individual has received. Sample questions that the survey will include:
- Have you received laboratory safety training before?
- When was the last time you received laboratory safety training?
- What level of laboratory safety did you receive?
- Are you satisfied with the level of laboratory safety you have learned?
- Do you feel confident in your ability to handle a laboratory emergency?
All surveys will be anonymous; no participant will have to give details that reveal their own identity or the identity of the school. Participants will be asked to what level of education their school provides: elementary, middle, high school, or college. The data collected from the survey will be compared to the state OSHA injury reports from laboratory accidents in schools. From this comparison, I hope to be able to see a trend in laboratory safety of educators and the number of incidents of laboratory accidents in schools seen in each state.
The research I conduct will be beneficial in understanding how much laboratory safety education is emphasized in different states and how it affects the number of laboratory-related accidents. Understanding the number of educators that lack laboratory safety education will allow steps to be taken in creating new state requirements on teacher and administrator laboratory safety training. It is important to have this data in order to know what kind of changes need to be made. If there are a significant number of untrained individuals all across the country, then this becomes a national issue that requires congressional legislation. However, if the data reveals that there are fewer states that lack safety training of educators, then the issue could be handled through state legislation. Ongoing research can not only inform the general public on the current state of laboratory safety in the academic setting but can also serve to influence institutional policy and procedures, state mandates, and federal regulatory requirements.
- Fivizzani, K. P. (2016). Where are we with lab safety education: Who, what, when, where, and how? Journal of Chemical Health & Safety, 23(5), 18-20. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871553215001267
- Hill, R. H. (2016). The impact of OSHA’s laboratory standard on undergraduate safety education. Journal of Chemical Health & Safety, 23(5), 12-17. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871553215001206
- Roy, K. (2012). Lab accident wakeup call. The Science Teacher, 79(7), 70. Retrieved from http://proxy195.nclive.org/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1112269415?accountid=14968
- Stephenson, A. L., West, S. S., Westerlund, J. F. and Nelson, N. C. (2003), An Analysis of Incident/Accident Reports from the Texas Secondary School Science Safety Survey, 2001. School Science and Mathematics, 103: 293-303. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1949-8594.2003.tb18152.x
- Stroud, L. M., Stallings, C., & Korbusieski, T. J. (2007). Implementation of a science laboratory safety program in north carolina schools. Journal of Chemical Health & Safety, 14(3), 20-30. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1871553206001113