OSHA, NFPA and Safety Issues
OSHA is the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. The agency regulates workplace safety. OSHA regulations apply to you as the employee and to your school/district as the employer. Although OSHA regulations do not strictly apply to student activities, they are a good start for best practices in the science room.
OSHA mandates a Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) for every institution. The OSHA standards are guidelines, to be adapted to the specific needs of the institution. The CHP must have the following elements:
- Standard Operating Procedures for purchasing, storing and disposal of chemicals
- A procedure for environmental monitoring, minimizing exposure to hazards of all types
- A procedure for housekeeping, maintenance and regular inspections
- A medical program, including first aid
- A procedure for the use of safety equipment and apparel
- A record keeping procedure
- A signage and labeling procedure
- A responsible person, the Chemical Hygiene Officer (CHO)
We recommend that student activities be governed by the CHP as an example of good laboratory practices and to maintain the safest possible environment.
NFPA is the National Fire Protection Association, who publish a large number of guidelines for fire safety. For example, there is a NFPA regulation covering construction of flammable chemicals storage cabinets and another on the storage of flammable chemicals. NFPA regulations indicate that a fire extinguisher must be within 15 second walk or 50 ft. of any point in a science lab, for example. Your Fire Marshal should have access to NFPA codes, which are commonly incorporated into local fire codes.
A lot has been written about safety in the laboratory, mainly focused on "How do I" and "Best Practices".
A thorough review of the safety issues surrounding any lab design is mandatory. This review should include:
- Emergency action plans
- Fire extinguisher, safety shower and eyewash placement
- Proper aisle and doorway widths
- Hazardous materials storage
- Security of all rooms and storage cabinets
- Demonstration areas that protect the audience from possible injury
- Positioning of utility Master Shut Off controls