April 27, 2017
What are the risks of placing hazardous equipment (e.g., 3D printer, laser cutter, CNC router, etc.) in a non-T&E lab under the supervision of teachers not certified to teach T&E education?
Locking tool cabinet. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.
Safety Spotlight encourages the submission of questions, and this month’s topic comes from a concern raised by the New Jersey Technology and Engineering Educators Association (NJTEEA): During the Industrial Arts era the content of our courses was very definitive regarding tool usage and vocational skill development. Now tools are becoming "safer" and are found in nontraditional spaces such as library or media center makerspaces. What are the risks of placing hazardous equipment (e.g., 3D printer, laser cutter, CNC router, etc.) in a non-T&E lab under the supervision of teachers not certified to teach T&E education?
Thank you NJTEEA for raising this important question. This scenario is becoming more prevalent in schools, libraries/media centers, and community centers across the country. As the maker movement and STEM/STEAM/STREAMS continue to gain traction, we have noticed more makerspaces and STEM/STEAM/STREAMS Labs emerging in non-T&E laboratory settings. This poses a number of potentially serious safety issues.
Tools and Equipment
The first issue school administrators and teachers must understand is that no tool or machine is 100% safe. Although tools and machines today may seem “safer” than the industrial-size models of the past, they still can cause serious damage. This is why appropriate engineering controls, personal protective equipment (PPE), teacher training, administrative safety protocols/standard operating procedures, security, and supervision are critical.
Personal Protective Equipment
With the operation of hazardous tools and equipment, the proper PPE must be selected and used to protect all individuals in the room (e.g., safety glasses). Selection of appropriate personal protective equipment should be based on the 3As: hazards Analysis, risks Assessment, and appropriate safety Action (Roy, 2017).
Another issue that school administrators and teachers must consider is what type of engineering controls are required to operate the tools and equipment in a safer manner. For example, if using 3D printers, research suggests that proper air filtration is needed (Love & Roy, 2016). If using CNC routers or other equipment that produces harmful particles, then an adequate ventilation system will be required to ensure these particles are not recirculated to other parts of the building. If the facility has a laser engraver, the proper exhaust system may need to vent hazardous fumes to the outside. Additionally, adequate space for students to operate these tools and machines in a safer manner is required. Remember that appropriate safety work zone perimeters need to be established to provide a safer clearance in which only the machine operator is to be located.
Furthermore, there are security issues to consider—are the facility, tools, or machine unsecured and open, providing access to anyone at any time? Legal Safety Standards (e.g., duty or standard of care) and better professional practice would be to ensure the facility or all hazardous tools/machines and power sources can be locked away or locked out when not in use. Only students who submit a safety acknowledgement form, receive safety demonstrations/training from a properly trained employee, and complete the required safety tests should be allowed access to these tools and machines while under close supervision of safety-trained instructors.
The major question surrounding this topic is who should be permitted to supervise these makerspaces and labs—T&E teachers, science teachers, media specialists, or other teachers? The answer depends on the tools and equipment being used as well as the training/background of the instructor. Certification alone does not necessarily qualify one to supervise the use of hazardous tools and equipment since, in some states, certification only requires passing the technology education Praxis II exam without appropriate safety training/coursework. For example, a science educator may have taken a lab management course in his or her teacher preparation program but never received training related to tools and machines such as saws, CNC, etc. Also, simply receiving training from a product vendor does not automatically qualify one to provide instruction and facilitate the use of hazardous equipment. It is the responsibility of the school system, again under duty of care, to provide appropriate safety training or ensure that employees overseeing these areas have received adequate education on all related tools, equipment, and safety practices. School systems that do not meet this expectation would be exercising a lapse in duty of care. The administrators could potentially be liable for noncompliance of applicable OSHA safety standards relative to absence of or improper training for their employees. Bottom line: this scenario could create an unsafe working environment. In some cases, school systems or administrators could be found liable for an accident if they knowingly placed an unqualified employee in charge of overseeing a makerspace or other instructional lab. If they had knowledge of a more qualified instructor (according to training and/or experience) who could provide technical guidance to oversee that space, there could be the potential for negligence should an accident occur. There is also the possibility of shared liability between the school system and teacher, knowing they did not receive appropriate safety training and still proceeded to expose themselves and their students to hazards and potential accidents.
While nothing prevents schools from placing hazardous tools and equipment in non-T&E labs, it would be better professional practice to ensure that these spaces have all the necessary engineering controls and are managed by individuals with specialized safety training and experience. It would be most beneficial to have T&E teachers collaborate with other content area teachers to fully utilize these spaces for a more integrative learning experience.
Love, T. S. & Roy, K. (2016). 3D printing: What’s the harm? Technology and Engineering Teacher, 76(1), 36-37.
Roy, K. (2017, January 27). A three-step method for safer labs [National Science Teachers Association safety blog]. Retrieved from http://nstacommunities.org/blog/2017/01/27/a- three-step-method-for-safer-labs/
Tyler S. Love, Ph.D. is coordinator and assistant professor of Technology and Engineering Education at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He serves as editor of Safety Spotlight. Dr. Love can be reached email@example.com.
Ken R. Roy, Ph.D. is the chief science safety compliance adviser for the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and safety compliance officer for the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA). He also serves as Director of Environmental Health & Chemical Safety for the Glastonbury Public Schools (CT). Dr. Roy can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Dr. Roy on Twitter@drroysafersci.
Have questions or a safety issue that you would like to see addressed in a future Safety Spotlight article? Please send them to Dr. Tyler Love at email@example.com.
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