How to Build a Safe Makerspace
How can I create a safe makerspace?
- Check for any existing rules or guidance that your school or organization already has in place. Science and Design Technology classrooms will often have a set of rules as well as a risk assessment. Speak to the adults who regularly educate in these spaces to learn about these and to find out about common risks.
- Once you have a better understanding of the hazards and typical guidance for usage, develop a set of rules for your space. Have them checked by the manager or person responsible for health and safety at your school or venue.
- Make sure that you have a first aid kit in your makerspace, and undertake training in how to use and administer first aid. There are lots of courses, both online and in-person, that your employer can arrange for you to attend.
- Don’t be shy — publicise your rules! To foster an environment of personal responsibility, it’s a good idea to put up some safety rules in a clearly visible place, e.g. on a wall, where everyone can refer to them. It should also be a requirement of entry to the makerspace that people agree to abide by the rules of the space.
- Conduct a risk assessment of the space, its tools, and the activities that will be taking place in it. Create a checklist of questions to ask yourself every few weeks:
- Do you have things to handle any situations that might arise?
- Do you have procedures in place for injuries or emergencies?
- Are there any special materials or chemicals in your makerspace that need special treatment or action in the event of a mishap?
- Before every session in your space, check all safety equipment. Are any goggles cracked? Any holes in gloves used for handling hot things? Make sure that damaged equipment is properly logged for repair or disposal and removed from the space or made inaccessible.
- Consider what sanctions there will be for people who misbehave or ignore the rules of the makerspace. For example, when soldering with young people, you may want to operate a zero-tolerance policy with regards to unacceptable behaviour to ensure complete safety for everyone.
What do my makerspace participants need to know?
- A health and safety briefing should be mandatory before anyone can use the makerspace or any new piece of equipment in it. To track this information, you can have participants sign an agreement to say they understand and will abide by the rules of the workshop. The legitimacy conferred by signing a behaviour contract often gives attending the makerspace an added sense of gravitas and excitement.
- There should be a strong emphasis on personal responsibility to remain safe in the space and keep others safe too. Safety in the workshop is everyone’s responsibility. This includes reporting any damaged equipment, spillages, or unsafe behaviour.
- A short quiz or role play activity can be used to test understanding and reinforce your message. You can also refer to the rules chart regularly to keep students refreshed on their responsibilities. For example, focus on one of the makerspace rules each week, and then praise students who behave well and in accordance with this week’s rule — this helps to reinforce desired behaviours in the long term.
Common guidelines to consider
- Simple materials are best to get started with. Cardboard, duct tape, and lollipop/popsicle sticks are excellent for prototyping in the early stages, sourcing them requires minimal funding, and using them needs little training and oversight. Feel free to get fancy materials such as acrylic or plywood with older or more experienced makers, but you don’t need much to get started initially.
- Consider your users when choosing equipment, as well as the added responsibility of using that equipment both for you and the students. Choosing the right equipment model can be key. For example, some 3D printer models are designed to be hacked/customised and have open sides and easy access to hot parts, while others are designed for use in school environments and have built-in safety features (e.g. a lid that won’t open when components are hot).
- Tools and machinery need to have enough space to be operated without endangering the operator or other people in the space. If lots of your students want to use a machine, then give some thought to a queuing system that avoids overcrowding when you’re planning the making session. People need to concentrate when working with tools and machinery. They can be easily distracted by conversation or proximity of others wanting to watch or use the machine, which could lead to injury.
- Keep workspaces clean and tidy, and encourage students to follow a strict cleanup procedure. Minimise the number of wires running across workspaces or floors by using extension cords and covering them to avoid risk of tripping.
- Remember, you’re responsible for the tools and equipment your students use — don’t give them defective or risky gear! Any frayed cabling or damaged power tools should either be discarded, or repaired by a professional.
- Your makerspace should have adequate ventilation to minimise the risks posed by vapours from spillages or other incidents. Soldering also creates fumes that can be hazardous, so ensure that this activity only ever takes place in a well-ventilated space. Make sure you can get to and open a window or door to let fresh air in (and students out), should you need to.
- Specialist clothing may be required when working with certain tools or in certain conditions. For example:
- Masks should be worn when sanding, soldering, and handling any chemicals that might give off vapours or particles (e.g. spray paint, bleach, acetone, isopropyl alcohol, varnishes, and oils).
- Protective eyewear should be plentyful, ideally hanging up and highly visible when you enter the space. Scratched/damaged eyewear should be discarded if it impedes vision.
- Aprons. Depending on your application, you might want some slightly thicker or liquid-proof aprons. When working with simple craft materials, a regular pinafore should be fine to protect clothing.
- Gloves should be worn when handling chemicals, hot materials, or power tools, especially anything that may give off sparks. Simple gardening gloves will work just fine. (No plastic!)
- Footwear. Make sure everyone has shoes on at all times, as there are many hazards to bare feet in a workshop environment, including chemicals, debris, and dropped tools.
- Make: Magazine’s common safety rules for school makerspaces
- The Safe Workshop poster by William Gurstelle
ExerciseTake a moment to reflect on the space that you have identified, the activities that you plan to run, and the equipment you would like to have.
- What concerns do you have regarding creating a safe environment?
- Who can help you create this environment?
- Does your makerspace have any special safety considerations?
Build a Makerspace for Young People
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