Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds SPEAKER: Health and safety is the first thing you should address when it comes to effective practical work. National guidelines should be followed, and a risk assessment should always take place with significant findings recorded. If you do have to do something to make an activity safer, you should record it somewhere. This could be on your teacher planner or on a student’s worksheet. Within the UK, CLEAPSS advice for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland while SSERC provides advice for schools in Scotland. Other countries have their own local and national guidance, and this must always be checked and followed.

Skip to 0 minutes and 38 seconds At the National STEM Learning Centre, our labs have a similar set up to some school and college labs, and we will talk about some of the features now. Think about the room or lab in which you’ll be teaching and the pros and cons of its layout and setup. So here at the National STEM Learning Centre, all our benches are waist height, and that makes it really easy for the manipulation of various different practical experiments. Here, for example, we have a traditional chemistry set up for doing a titration and we have our burette and our conical flask. And by having the benches set at waist height, means that we can very easily manipulate the apparatus in order to undertake the practical.

Skip to 1 minute and 24 seconds Another example here, an example from physics this time, looking at the set up of electrical circuits. And here we can see again by having the equipment at waist height, it means that we can stand and operate this equipment without having to do any leaning damage our backs. Finally while discussing the height of benches to work at, we can look at a set up for biology. And here we have a microscope for microscopy, and we can either operate this standing or alternatively by sitting down.

Skip to 2 minutes and 7 seconds For students with any accessibility needs, we also have a height adjustable bench.

Skip to 2 minutes and 14 seconds And by having a height adjustable bench, means that students who are less able to do so can still undertake the same experiment as all other students in the room. As with all laboratories, it is vital that we know where our shutoffs are for our gas and electric supply so tht we can isolate them in the event of an emergency. Here we have an example of our electric stop off, and our gas shut off.

Skip to 2 minutes and 42 seconds All labs should come with some form of eyewash in order to irrigate a student’s eye should any contamination get in there. Here at the National STEM Learning Centre, we have main supply eyewashes, which deliver a slow aerated supply of water across the student’s eye should we get any contamination.

Skip to 3 minutes and 2 seconds If you don’t have a main supply eyewash, then what you can do is take a length of Bunsen burner tubing, sterilise that, pop it into a Ziploc bag, and pin that above a tap in your lab, which has been designated an emergency eyewash station. Does your school or college have a rule where students need to wear eye protection for every single experiment that they undertake? It’s really important that we consider what activities the students are undertaking and what the hazards are when it comes to planning for health and safety. For example, if students are simply melting ice in a beaker and measuring the temperature, particularly the beaker is plastic, what is the actual hazard associated with this experiment?

Skip to 3 minutes and 45 seconds Do students need to wear any eye protection at all? And the same when we consider electric circuits. However, there are occasions where students will need to wear eye protection. Eye protection usually comes in three forms in a school. Either lab specs, indirectly vented goggles, or the full face shield, and there is an appropriate time for each one to be worn. It’s really important that you know where you can find out this information so when you’re doing your planning, you can plan safely and effectively. If you are in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, that would be CLEAPPS. If you’re in Scotland SSERC, and if you are outside of the United Kingdom, your local health and safety provider.

Skip to 4 minutes and 34 seconds During this course, we’ll talk about different methods and practical ideas which can be used which work, are safe, and are effective at supporting learning. These will need to be adapted for your environment. And as you work through this course, you’ll need to think of how you would safely implement them in your teaching space.

Health and safety in the practical classroom

To begin, we’ll briefly discuss some of the health and safety aspects of a classroom laboratory. Please note this is not exhaustive. We have selected a few examples of health and safety considerations in a school laboratory to discuss in the video. These include:

  • Bench height and seating to use equipment comfortably and safely.
  • Electric and gas emergency shut off.
  • Eye wash.
  • Eye protection appropriate to the hazard.

If you are a specialist teacher of a science subject then you should have received relevant training in managing a classroom safely as part of your teacher training, and specific guidance regarding your lab space your induction to your department.

If however, you are a non-specialist who is required to teach science then you may not have received this. As such your employer has the responsibility to ensure you have thorough training on working in a laboratory and in the use of practical equipment prior to undertaking any practical work with students. The induction provided by your employer should include how to use safety equipment such as the gas and electrical isolators, initial remedial measures such as treating heat burns, cuts, chemical burns, and eye contamination, and how to record incidents (this list is not exhaustive).

If you are ever unsure always seek advice from a colleague. Laboratory technicians are a great place to start.

Your teaching space

Before you get started with teaching practical work, familiarise yourself with the health and safety aspects of your teaching space. If you have not yet had an induction by your department, arrange this as soon as possible.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre