Author Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 79, Issue 1 - September 2019
PublisherITEEA, Reston, VA
ReleasedAugust 15, 2019
Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 79, Issue 1 - September 2019

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Table of Contents

Safety Spotlight: Developing a Culture of Safety through Departmental Planning


How can school systems establish consistent policies and practices for addressing T&E education safety issues?



At the start of each academic year, it is critical that school systems have developed a plan regarding how safety is to be enforced within their Technology and Engineering (T&E) education departments. This plan should focus on a uniform way to approach safety across all T&E courses and help reduce the liability of the school district, administrators, and instructors. One of the most important areas to consider in a safety plan is personal protective equipment (PPE) (e.g., safety glasses). Instructors should have a consistent way to store, clean, inspect, and document when there is an issue regarding any required PPE. Record keeping and facility management are other critical components that are sometimes overlooked, but they are also vital in reducing the liability of the teacher if an accident were to occur. Additionally, class sizes are a common issue across content areas, especially within lab-based courses where they can become a safety concern if not handled appropriately. Collaborating with your administrators and guidance department can help inform key decision makers about the federal and/or state guidelines regarding occupancy load in a school lab and address this issue. Ultimately, T&E instructors need to be informed, advocate for safety, take action when appropriate, and collaborate with others to devise guidelines that prioritize safety and reduce the risk of potential injuries.


Important Criteria to Include in Department Safety Policies

1.     Personal Protective Equipment

The most common PPE that teachers and students need to wear in T&E laboratories is eye protection. While the nature of every lab may be different for each instructor or activity performed, wearing eye protection is a critical first step in reducing certain injuries to individuals in the lab. There are four types of eye protection, including general safety glasses, laser safety glasses, chemical splash goggles, and impact goggles. Typically, safety glasses with side shields are the most widely used, but chemical splash and impact safety goggles can have their place too, depending on the tasks being performed. Safety glasses and goggles should have the ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 impact rating signified on the temple. Safety glasses should also have side shields for added protection.

Safety policies and instructors should emphasize that all students, and any visitors, must wear eye protection during setup, hands-on lab work, and cleanup. Instructors must ensure that students are wearing the safety glasses correctly to effectively protect their eyes from dust, debris, and foreign objects that may cause injuries. Preferably, eye protection should be stored in a sanitizing cabinet with ultraviolet (UV) light. This can help control biological hazards, including the spread of bacteria and viruses among users. If a UV cabinet is not available, the teachers may provide disinfectant wipes or antibacterial dish detergent to help eliminate germs and/or remove any residue left on the glasses at the end of each class. It is important to remember that UV light only destroys biological hazards, not chemical or physical hazards! Therefore, alcohol wipes or antibacterial dish detergent should be used periodically.

There should be a variety of sizes of safety glasses available to the students to accommodate a comfortable fit for each. A set of indirectly vented chemical safety goggles may also be useful to allocate to students for wear over their regular eyeglasses. Remember that eyeglasses are not a substitute for safety glasses unless they have the ANSI/ISEA Z87.1 impact rating!

While additional PPE may be required depending upon the work performed, (gloves, lab coats, aprons, full-face shields, etc.) there is one other item that should always be required upon entering all T&E labs: closed-toed shoes. Closed-toed shoes reduce the risk of injury from falling objects and help to reduce tripping hazards. Teachers should be vigilant in monitoring footwear, especially in the warmer months when students are more likely to wear sandals, which can create unsafe lab working conditions. Additional safety precautions that should be enforced at all times include: remove all loose jewelry, tie back long hair, no artificial nails if working near open flames, secure or remove loose clothing, and no eating or drinking in the lab.  A full list of general lab safety rules that should be included in a safety plan can be found on ITEEA’s Laboratory Rules poster (ITEEA, 2014).


2.     Record Keeping

Another aspect of establishing a safer lab space is to maintain accurate and detailed safety documentation. This documentation should include, but is not limited to: parent-signed safety acknowledgement forms, safety lessons and tests on all equipment/tools the students will use in the lab, and a safety infractions log sheet. Additionally, records for equipment inspection, maintenance, etc., need to be kept on file. The use of these documents will help teachers clearly communicate safety expectations to students while also consistently and equitably enforcing safety. The documentation and procedures used should remain consistent across the department.          

Before work begins, teachers must review the safety rules of the lab area, along with all rules and procedures related to each piece of machinery or tool that will be used. An explanation, along with a physical demonstration and/or video, will help students visually comprehend what is expected of them while using the hazardous item(s). Teachers may also want to have students repeat the process under direct supervision in order to demonstrate a hands-on understanding. Upon completion of the demonstration, safety tests should be given to all students to assess their comprehension of the information. It is important that these tests are taken seriously and that the students fully understand the potential risks that can occur if the safety rules are not followed. To help with this, safety tests should be part of a student’s grade with the expectation that they must earn a 100% on the test before they are allowed in the lab and able to use that hazardous item. Automatically graded safety tests can be accessed through ITEEA’s Safety Resources website (ITEEA, 2014).            

A department-developed letter to parents/guardians explaining the safety rules discussed in class, along with any consequences of not following the rules, should be provided during the first days of school. This acknowledgement letter should then be signed by both the parent/guardian and student, and returned to the teacher to be kept on file. Other documentation to include is a form that identifies when a safety infraction has occurred and what course of action will take place. Teachers should work with their administrators so that all parties understand the severity of such infractions and can agree to appropriate consequences for inappropriate actions. If a student is posing significant safety issues for themselves or others, the instructor should work with administrators and guidance department to either resolve the issue or remove the student permanently from the class to uphold the safety of all.


3.     Facilities

Guidelines for maintaining a safer facility greatly decrease the risk of injuries and promote a safer learning environment. Collaboration among teachers to develop a safer laboratory for students is dependent upon regularly inspecting their facilities. This responsibility is an example of each teacher’s duty or standard of care for students and should be shared among everyone using the facilities. In a court of law, the instructor(s) with training in this area will be deemed the expert(s). Therefore, it is critical that instructors inspect before, during, and after all activities. We found that regular inspections and record keeping go a long way in creating a culture of safety within our school and facilities.

Regular, well-documented inspections of the facility should happen at least once each marking period, and it is better professional practice for the instructor to informally inspect the facility each time they walk through the laboratory. Roy and Love (2017) suggest instructors “complete a detailed inspection report biannually” (p. 24). Additionally, instructors should visually inspect for the following in their labs:

  • General cleanliness/housekeeping (proper storage of materials, aisles have a minimum three-foot clearance, engineering controls such as master power switches and eye wash stations are easily accessible [maximum of 10 seconds from anywhere in the lab], etc.).
  • Safety procedures are posted on the walls next to correlating equipment/tools/processes.
  • Yellow and black caution tape is installed on the floor around machines/hazardous areas to signify safety operator zones. See SIPE (2019) for guidelines regarding safety zones around machinery.
  • Nonskid strips are installed on concrete/tile/linoleum floors near equipment that produces a lot of waste (belt sanders, jointers, table saws, planers, etc.). 
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is in good working condition.
  • Machine guards are properly in place and in good working condition.
  • Filters in ventilation equipment are clean, and dust collection systems are not clogged or filled.


As a department, we found it is a better practice to complete regular inspections and document these inspections thoroughly. Maintenance logs that document repairs made to equipment should be kept up to date; any time a piece of equipment has a repair, it should be well documented and shared with the supervisor and department. Departments should establish a clear policy of dealing with lockout/tagout procedures for a machine that is not operating to the manufacturer’s safety specifications. Placing a Do Not Use label over the power switch and turning off the circuit breaker, if possible, will prevent use of a machine in need of repair. Another option with newer equipment is to pull the key from the power switch and place a lock-out tag on the equipment. As mentioned previously, ventilation system filters need to be inspected to avoid hazards such as fire or unfiltered air. Filters in spray booths, laser engraver fume extractors, and any other filtration systems should also be inspected during this time.

During inspections, the material/project storage areas and paint/chemical storage areas are often overlooked. Inspections provide an ideal time to properly clean out and/or organize storage areas, reducing hazards and decreasing the risk of materials being stolen. Instructors should work with their school system’s occupational health and safety office to properly dispose of any expired or unwanted chemicals and hazardous materials. Also, make sure the district’s OSHA Hazard Communication Standard safety plan is followed in addition to receiving appropriate employee training on hazardous chemical storage, use, and disposal.


4.     Overcrowding

Occupancy load is a common issue in education, especially when T&E courses are required for graduation or are popular electives. Teachers and administrators should work together to find a reasonable number of students per course according to the following criteria: “Overcrowding is a complex issue that includes (1) class size, (2) amount of workspace per student as well as (3) occupancy load.” (National Science Teachers Association [NSTA] Safety Advisory Board, 2014, p. 1). Schools need to be aware that class size is the number of students in the classroom or lab, whereas occupancy load is the total number of occupants (students, teacher, paraprofessional, visitors, etc.) in the classroom or lab.

Determining the maximum number of students per class should rely on several safety factors. The type of equipment students are using in the course needs to be considered; courses primarily using computers can handle a few more students than courses that involve heavy use of bandsaws and other dangerous machinery. Occupancy load is dictated by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101 Life Safety Code, which states that classrooms require 20 net square feet per occupant, while labs require 50 net square feet per occupant. While limiting the number of students per class is challenging, following these NFPA legal safety standards will help ensure that students are safer.

Some more specific courses require special equipment that can limit the number of students allowed to enroll. For example, an electronics course may require that students use a Programmable Logic Device (PLD), which can be a challenge if the school or district is only able to purchase 24 devices. If more students are enrolled in that course, purchasing smaller, less expensive yet similar devices could be a reasonable solution, given the facility has the appropriate square footage to safely accommodate that many students while working on these devices.

Alternatively, teachers sometimes lack enough students to run the more advanced, “upper level” courses. Teachers should regularly check with their administrators and counselors to make sure students are being placed in the correct courses. Often students have schedule conflicts, meaning the advanced courses (known as singletons) are offered at the same time. At Meade High School, the technology education department chair works with the mathematics and science department chairs to make sure calculus and AP physics are not offered at the same time as advanced technology classes.

The best solution to resolving class size discrepancies is to work together with administrators and counselors. Educating them on the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code and the potentially hazardous nature of your courses is an important first step. Safety should always be the top priority of a school, and administrators must be aware that 30 to 35 students in a classroom is a lot different than having 30 to 35 students in a laboratory using machines and tools. As better professional practice, NSTA recommends no more than 24 students per one instructor, if the facility has the appropriate square footage to handle that many occupants (NSTA, 2014). This recommendation is supported by research that found class sizes beyond 24 students per instructor significantly increased the rate of accidents. West’s (2016) article does an excellent job describing these issues and should be provided to administrators who have questions regarding occupancy loads in labs. 



The authors have found that collaboration within a department is necessary to establish consistent procedures and policies that protect the safety of everyone in the lab. Developing policies to ensure students and instructors always wear properly functioning PPE (e.g., safety glasses) is a crucial first step to developing a noticeable safety culture. In addition to PPE, organizing and maintaining records will go a long way in the event of a lawsuit. Documentation of signed parent acknowledgment forms, when student safety was taught, and completed safety quizzes requires a consistent departmental approach. Schools and instructors do not have to create all of these documents from scratch; there are numerous resources listed in the references section that can be helpful in developing a departmental safety plan.



Deck, A. (2017). Eye Protection: How do you decide between safety glasses and safety goggles? Technology and Engineering Teacher, 77(3), 26-28.

International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA). (2014). ITEEA’s safety resources. Retrieved from

National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Safety Advisory Board. (2014). Overcrowding in the instructional space. Retrieved from

Roy, K. R. & Love, T. S. (2017). Safer makerspaces, fab labs, and STEM labs: A collaborative guide! Vernon, CT: National Safety Consultants, LLC.

Schools Insurance Program for Employees (SIPE). (2019). Safety zones around machinery. Retrieved from

West, S. S. (2016). Overcrowding in K-12 STEM classrooms and labs. Technology and Engineering Teacher, 76(4), 38-39.


Melvin Gill is the Technology Education Department Chair at Meade High School in Anne Arundel County, MD. He also works as an adjunct at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He can be reached at

Kevin Koperski teaches Project Lead the Way at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Montgomery County, MD. He can be reached at

Tyler S. Love, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Elementary/Middle Grades STEM Education and Director of the Capital Area Institute for Mathematics and Science (CAIMS) at Penn State Harrisburg. He can be reached at

Ken R. Roy, Ph.D., is the chief science safety compliance adviser for the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) and Director of Environmental Health & Chemical Safety for Glastonbury Public Schools in CT. He can be reached at