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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science
Among teachers responding to a survey conducted in Texas in October 2000, 36 percent reported a total of 460 minor laboratory accidents during the 2000-2001 school year (Fuller et al., 2001, p. 9), and 13 percent reported a total of 85 major accidents requiring medical attention over the previous five years (Fuller et al., 2001, p. 10).
The lack of publicly available data on laboratory accidents and injuries may be due in part to the fact that many legal cases are settled before trial. As a result, there are few articles discussing legal precedents and findings in cases related to laboratory science (Standler, 1999).
Lack of Systemic Safety Enforcement
Over the past 10 years, several states have conducted surveys of laboratory safety in conjunction with teacher safety education workshops. States that have conducted surveys and workshops include Iowa (Gerlovich et al., 1998), Nebraska (Gerlovich and Woodland, 2000), North Carolina (Stallings, Gerlovich, and Parsa, no date), Wisconsin (Gerlovich, Whitsett, Lee, and Parsa, 2001), South Carolina (Sinclair, Gerlovich, and Parsa, 2003), and Alabama (Gerlovich, Adams, Davis, and Parsa, 2003). The results of these state surveys must be interpreted with caution, because responses were obtained from only small, self-selected samples of teachers, who may not be representative of the population of teachers more generally. For example, in Iowa, 617 surveys were mailed to participants who had agreed to attend safety training workshops, and 383 surveys were received at these workshops (Gerlovich et al., 2002). Surveys reflected the situation of at least one building in each of Iowa’s area educational agencies, but it is not possible to determine whether the situation in other schools in those areas is the same or different.
Among the small group of teachers responding to the Iowa survey, nearly 70 percent worked in laboratories that were over 20 years old, making it less likely that they were in compliance with recent building codes. Less than 22 percent of the laboratories and 7 percent of the combined laboratory-classrooms included in this small sample complied with the NSTA standards calling for 45 square feet per student for laboratories and 60 square feet per student for combined laboratory-classrooms (Gerlovich et al., 2002). Most of the facilities included in the surveys had such basic safety features as ground fault interrupters on electrical outlets, ABC triclass fire extinguishers, and ANSI-approved eye protective equipment, but nearly 27 percent did not have a functioning eyewash station. About 37 percent of the teachers reported never receiving science safety training, and over 17 percent said they had received safety training more than 10 years earlier. Nearly 60 percent required students to sign safety contracts indicating they understood and agreed to follow safety procedures, and nearly 70 percent stored chemicals safely, based