We’ve all seen the news reports of accidents, injuries, or lab experiments gone wrong in the chemistry classroom. Do you find yourself reflecting and thinking about how careful you are in your classroom? Unfortunately, accidents do happen.  It is so important  for all chemistry teachers to not only think about how they can prevent accidents in the classroom, but also consider your liability in case of an accident. In this blog, you’ll find eight helpful steps to reduce your liability just in case an accident happens in your classroom.

Teach a Separate Lab Safety Unit

Consider teaching lab safety and equipment use as a separate unit at the beginning of the year. This is a great way to make sure that all safety topics are covered, nothing is left out, and show your students how serious you are about their safety. If we only teach lab safety prior to each lab, safety will not be viewed as an ongoing, always present, consideration while in chemistry class. 

Document, Document, Document

Document all lab safety training that you have given your students. Provide dates and specifics about the training. This may include the Lab Safety and Lab Equipment Unit dates as well as any safety training prior to each lab.

Most teachers have students and parents sign a Lab Safety Contract at the beginning of the year. Organize the signed copies by class period, and provide another copy for students to keep in their chemistry notebook. Although these are not legally binding contracts, they are an agreement between teacher, student, and parents.

Consider a lab safety quick review after returning from winter break. This will provide a great refresher for the students and will remind them that lab safety is important to you.  This can be done in one class period and you can make it slightly different from the way safety was taught in the beginning of the school year.  Flinn Scientific has some great demos for lab safety. 

Document and go over any safety issues on each lab instruction handout. If students are writing up a lab report, have them include a section on safety.

Model Safe Practices

It is always important to model safety in front of your students – wear protective equipment when doing demos – goggles, lab coat, and gloves. Communicate to the students when you are doing something for safety. For example, when you are moving flammables away before lighting something, saying, “I need to move this flammable away before I light this” will work.

Use a safety shield or fume hood when necessary. 

When doing demonstrations that are explosive, especially when glassware is involved, have students positioned at a good distance from the demo and wear safety goggles. Check equipment before use, and get students in the habit of doing the same. If you do the Whoosh bottle demo, check your bottle yearly for cracks!

Misbehavior in Lab

Have procedures ready in case of misbehavior in the lab. Don’t just wing it, and deal with it when it comes up! Be consistent! If you have to remove a student from your lab,have an assignment ready for them to complete by the end of the lab. Sit the offending student in a place where they won’t distract other students. Whatever your procedure is, be consistent, and calmly enact the consequences.

In Case of Accident

Have procedures ready in case of misbehavior in the lab. Don’t just wing it, and deal with it when it comes up! Be consistent! If you have to remove a student from your lab,have an assignment ready for them to complete by the end of the lab. Sit the offending student in a place where they won’t distract other students. Whatever your procedure is, be consistent, and calmly enact the consequences.

Fire Drills/Lock Downs

Have procedures in place for fire drills or lock downs. Have you ever had a fire drill in the middle of a lab? Make sure students are prepared for fire drills as always, but also fire drills during a lab – turn off all gas and unplug any electrical equipment being used.

Keep Chemical Storage Room Student Free & Locked

Even if you have the most trustworthy teacher aide, keep the chemical storage room secure. If the teacher aide needs something, you get it for them and lock the door behind you.

Liability Insurance – Are You Covered?

Do you know if you are covered with liability insurance should an accident occur in your classroom? Make sure you carry personal liability insurance. As a chemistry teacher, this is especially important to have!!

Check with your professional organization to find out what your options are.. Most organizations will cover your legal representation  but if you are a union member, liability insurance is usually included with your dues. 

If you don’t belong to a union, or teach at a private school, you can still and should purchase an individual policy. Most Premiums range from around $100 – $250 per year and  it is absolutely  worth it for the peace of mind.

This is something that you should check on right away. You can find these liability policies with insurance companies such as Horace Mann or look into coverage through NSTA, AACT, or ACS.

Are you covered should something happen?

Follow these eight steps to limit your liability in case of accident and to keep your labs as safe as possible.

Teach a Separate Lab Safety & Lab Equipment Unit
Document, Document, Document
Model Safe Practices
Have a Procedure for Handling Misbehavior in the Lab
Be Ready for “In Case of Accident”
Have Procedures for Fire Drills/Lock Downs
Keep Chemical Storage Room Student Free & Locked
Liability Insurance – Are You Covered?