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Science Safety

Lab and Class Sizes

From Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations:

a. Laboratories shall be designed in accordance with the planned curriculum.

1. Science laboratory:

  1. Size is at least 1300 square feet including storage and teacher preparation area.
  2. Science laboratory design is consistent with the requirements for proper hazardous materials management specified in both the Science Facilities Design for California Public Schools, published by the California Department of Education, 1993, and the Science Safety Handbook for California Public Schools, published by the California State Department of Education, 1999.
  3. Accommodations are made for necessary safety equipment and storage of supplies; e.g., fire extinguisher, first aid kit, master disconnect valve for gas.
  4. Secured storage areas are provided for volatile, flammable, and corrosive chemicals and cleaning agents.
  5. Properly designated areas are provided with appropriate ventilation for hazardous materials that emit noxious fumes, including a high volume purge system in the event of accidental release of toxic substances which may become airborne.
  6. Exhaust fume hoods, eye washes, deluge showers are provided.
  7. Floor and ceiling ventilation is provided in areas where chemicals are stored.
  8. Room is provided for movement of students around fixed-learning stations.
  9. There is the capability for technology which complements the curriculum.
  10. Classrooms are flexibly designed to insure full student access to laboratory stations and lecture areas.
  11. Ref: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/fa/sf/title5regs.asp

From the Science Safety Handbook for California Public Schools:

No current legal mandate prescribes special limits on class size in science laboratories. The Uniform Fire Code classifies science laboratory classes as "academic subjects" and specifies 20 square feet per student as a minimum standard, in contrast to a vocational education class for which the requirement is 50 square feet per student.  In reality, more than 20 square feet per pupil are required for hands-on laboratory science activities.

Because of these requirements [in Title 5], teachers and administrators need to establish reasonable limits on the number of students in a laboratory setting to ensure
maximum safety in the science laboratory. Factors to consider include:

  1. the space required for each student to perform experiments safely;
  2. the safety features in the design of the facilities or space;
  3. the level of maturity and safety knowledge that students bring to the science
    laboratory;
  4. the number of students that one teacher can supervise during a potentially
    dangerous activity;
  5. the nature and degree of increased hazard and liability when the class size
    exceeds 24 students.

It is recommended that schools take a practical approach to safe science instruction in determining the number of students in the laboratory classroom. Factors such as safety, number of stations, and total classroom square footage should be considered.

The Science Safety Handbook for California Public Schools, 2012 Edition, is available for download at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/pd/ca/sc/scisafeaddend2013.asp.

  • Science Safety Tips in California Classroom Science : http://www.classroomscience.org/category/science-safety
  • Flinn Scientific Lab Safety Courses for Teachers and Administrators: http://labsafety.flinnsci.com/Home.aspx
  • Laboratory Safety Institute: http://www.labsafety.org
  • Online Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards, from NIOSH: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/
  • OSHA home page: http://www.osha.gov/index.html
  • University of Virginia's extensive safety resources: http://keats.admin.virginia.edu/