The following is a general summary of the types of safety equipment that should be made available within a given school system as well as general locations where the protective equipment or devices should be maintained and used. The observations noted during the completion of our investigation serve as the basis for these recommendations. The reader should note that this is only a partial list and that your school system should be reviewed for unique hazards and site specific hazards at each facility. For example, the Burlington school system does not sponsor a large industrial arts or shop curriculum locally and as a result many of these hazards have not been fully assessed during our review.
1. Training. Train your staff on how to:
a) identify potential hazards,
b) evaluate potential hazards, and
c) how to prevent or respond to hazards.
The following types of training should be considered:
a) Right to Know along with some basic chemical hygiene as well as how to read and understand a material safety data sheet, b) instruction in how to use a fire extinguisher,
c) instruction in how to use a chemical fume hood,
d) general guidance in when and how to use personal protective equipment (e.g. safety glasses or gloves), and
e) instruction in how to monitor activities for potential impacts on indoor air quality. (Note: The EPA Tools for Schools Indoor Air Quality Assessment kit can assist your efforts to review air quality concerns.)
2. Material Safety Data Sheets. Maintain a copy of the material safety data sheet for every item in your chemical inventory. This information will assist you in determining how to store and handle your materials by outlining the health and safety hazards posed by the substance. In most cases the manufacturer will provide recommendations with regard to protective equipment, ventilation and storage practices. This information should be your first guide when considering the use of a new material.
3. Safety glasses/goggles. Safety glasses or goggles should be used during all activities where chemicals or particles may accidentally enter the eye. Common settings include middle and high school science labs, art studios, maintenance and shop areas. In Massachusetts, state law specifies that safety glasses shall be worn whenever hazardous chemicals are used in the classroom. Be sure to review and consider the types of hazards present when selecting appropriate eye protection. Make sure you select equipment that is designed to provide protection for the risks under consideration.
4. Gloves. Many chemicals can either damage the skin via contact or may cause harm if allowed to be absorbed through the skin. As a result, it is important to use protective gloves to form a barrier to prevent these problems. Also, remember that different hazards require the use of different gloves. It is rare that one type of glove would be capable of providing adequate protection for all the hazards that may be encountered. This is especially true with regard to the variety of chemistry that may be found in science laboratories. Common settings include middle and high school science labs, art studios, maintenance and shop areas.
5. Lab coats and aprons. Lab coats and aprons are designed to provide protection in the event of a spill. In addition, the use of these articles may prevent student or staff clothing from becoming contaminated and thereby limit the migration of chemical contamination should a spill occur. Common settings include middle and high school science labs, art studios, maintenance and shop areas.
6. Eye wash units. Eye wash units should be provided in all areas where chemical or physical hazards exist which may cause eye irritation or injury. Common settings include middle and high school science labs, art studios, maintenance and shop areas.
7. Deluge showers/fire blankets. Deluge showers and fire blankets should be maintained in all areas where chemical or fire hazards exist which may result in partial body exposure. Common settings include middle and high school science labs, art studios, maintenance and shop areas.
8. Fire extinguishers. Fire extinguishers should be maintained in accordance to state and local fire and building codes. Furthermore, each area should be reviewed individually to determine if additional fire protection is required. Also, be sure to verify that the correct size and type of extinguisher is provided in accordance to the materials commonly used or maintained in that space.
9. Ventilation. Additional mechanical ventilation such as chemical fume hoods should be provided in all areas where chemical fumes, vapors or odors are commonly generated. Sufficient ventilation should be provided to prevent the build up of hazardous air contaminants and to minimize nuisance odors. This may be an issue in middle and high school art, science and shop classrooms as well as facilities maintenance shops.
10. Respirators. Respirators are not generally recommended for student use, but their use by maintenance staff may be required when conducting certain activities such as pesticide application or asbestos management. All readers are encouraged to consult the guidance prepared by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regarding the use and maintenance of respirators.
11. Hearing protection. Certain shop and maintenance activities may necessitate the need to wear hearing protection. Each school system is encouraged to investigate all activities which generate loud or persistent noises for evaluation by a trained certified industrial hygienist.
12. Spill kits. Spills will occur. Be prepared to address and respond to the problem. This approach will enhance your ability to remediate a spill and minimize its long-term impact. Common settings include middle and high school science labs, art studios, maintenance and shop areas.
13. Chemical storage cabinets. The bulk storage of hazardous materials may necessitate the use of a re-enforced chemical storage cabinet. This method of storage is routinely used to manage flammables, corrosives and oxidizers. Review local fire prevention guidance for storage recommendations.
1. Use your safety equipment. If you do not use your equipment then it cannot protect you. Also, you need to be prepared to punish or penalize those who will not use the safety equipment. Their actions may endanger more than one person.
2. Develop a less toxic curriculum. This approach may enable you to avoid or minimize the number of safety hazards requiring special precautions at your school in the first place.
Potential sources of assistance include state public health and occupational hygiene agencies as well as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration . The local fire service and code enforcement offices may also assist your efforts to promote fire prevention and proper chemical storage.
prepared by Todd H. Dresser, Environmental Engineer
Burlington Board of Health, 29 Center Street, Burlington, MA 01803