Conference Paper

Disaster Awaits: School Science Safety Ignored

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According to the Next Generation Science Standards (released in April 2013) and AAAS Benchmarks for Science Literacy (first released in 1993), science courses must provide firsthand hands-on science experiences for students. With the increased number of hands-on experiences – especially in the primary grades where teachers are not typically trained in safe science practice - the risk of injury dramatically increases. The National Safety Council has estimated 5000 safety-related accidents occur in American schools each year, at least ten per cent of these are science classroom related (Stroud 2009). Moreover, state safety data extracted from research studies spanning 75 years establish school lab safety as a national problem. Clearly, teachers and students, if trained in safe lab procedures would decrease the risk of injury and death resulting from accidents. Legal standards of care are prescribed to schools with costly consequences for non-observance of these standards. Even so, few school districts implement or monitor OSHA recommendations. As part of a study to ascertain the science safety readiness of South Dakota schools, in 2009 and 2012, science safety surveys were disseminated statewide to science teachers. Survey questions posed included: Is science taught safely through recommended hands-on inquiry methods? And, which factors determine if science is being taught safely? Similar studies in other states have documented the severity of this issue. The purpose of this paper is to underscore that school lab accidents are underreported, inadequately addressed and present an national public safety hazard of enormous scope. Strong recommendations are also made (as OSHA has proffered) that pre-service science teachers (as well as all science teachers already in classrooms) be trained and certified explicitly in safe science procedures before conducting science experiments in classrooms with students. Additionally, a national database of school science safety accidents must be established and monitored.

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