Standards of Care for Student Safety

The courts have established that negligence may occur if teachers or school administrators’ conduct falls below a standard of care established by law or profession. Standards of care are established not only by law and regulation but are also incorporated in building codes and guidelines established by voluntary associations.

In the event of student accident or injury, courts may consider whether the size of the laboratory facility and the number of students using the facility met standards of care. State laws and regulations governing class size are based on occupancy standards established by the Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc., and the National Fire Protection Association, Inc. (Roy, 1999). Both of these sets of standards call for 50 square feet of space per person in school laboratories or workshops. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) calls for a minimum of 45 square feet per student for a standalone laboratory and 60 square feet per student for a combination laboratory-classroom (Biehle et al., 1999, p. 55). This translates into at least 1,250 square feet for a laboratory and 1,440 square feet for a combined laboratory classroom. The NSTA recommends a maximum class size of 24 students in high school laboratory science classes.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) establishes standards of care to protect the health and safety of all employees, including teachers and other school employees. One of the most important OSHA standards of care for school laboratories is the Laboratory Standard (29 CFR 1910.1450). This standard requires school science teachers to create and maintain a chemical hygiene plan (CHP). In most schools, a science teacher or teachers develop the CHP, which outlines policies, procedures, and responsibilities to increase student, teacher, and staff awareness of potentially harmful chemicals. The CHP requires proper labeling of all chemicals, using a Material Safety Data Sheet, which outlines important safety information, and safe storage. These data sheets must be made available to school employees and must be kept in a safe but easily accessible location. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health provides guides for proper separation of incompatible chemical families. Other OSHA standards governing laboratory safety include CFR, Part 29, 1910 (General Workplace Standards), 1910 Subpart Z (Exposure Standards), 1910.133 (Eyewear Standards), and 1910.1450 (Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers several laws and regulations affecting safety in high school science laboratories. These include (1) the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, (2) the Emergency Planning and Right-to-Know laws and regulations, and (3) the Toxic Sub-

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