Laboratory and Workshop Safety
Laboratories and workshops are amazing learning environments which provide students with “real life” opportunities to implement theoretical knowledge. WIth planning and discussion, it is largely possible to ensure the inclusion of all students. The first consideration should be the required learning outcome - is the objective to understand the procedure or to be an active participant? Referring to the core course requirements will assist in determining this. It is also important to discuss with individual students and seek expert guidance about how their needs might be met, given safety considerations. Together this will assist in guiding adjustments to tasks.
Some staff members are concerned that the presence of disability in the classroom somehow increases the risk of accidents, or of being sued for negligence. This stems from the incorrect assumption that the safety record of people with disability is poorer in comparison to those without. Research has clearly identified that disability does not pose an inherent safety risk1. However, you have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all your students is protected.
Teaching staff certainly need to enforce good laboratory practices and sensible safety measures for all students. There are steps you can take to ensure the safety of your students (please note, this is not an attempt to provide a comprehensive discussion of laboratory safety):
- Require all students to notify staff of any potential health and safety issues.
- Orientate all students to the environment, including the location of first aid supplies, extinguishers and emergency exits.
- Always discuss procedures and any special safety considerations before allowing experiments or practical tasks to begin.
- Conduct risk assessments and implement changes to minimise avoidable risks.
- Install a light-weight fire extinguisher.
- Provide at least one adjustable workbench for students with wheelchairs as well as students of smaller stature.
- Ensure that the laboratory/workshop aisles are clear and materials/equipment within reach, and that they are accessible, i.e. lab tables, sinks and other workspaces allow wheelchair access.
- Arrange and discuss evacuation plans for fire and other emergencies. Review these regularly.
- Provide an outline of the laboratory or studio work prior to each session to allow students to prepare and discuss any potential barriers. Course Design contains further information on the provision of resources to students and accessible instructional material.
- Utilise open-ended questions to ensure comprehension.
- Respond quickly to any disruptive behaviour from any student. Supporting Students contains further information.
Remember: the safety record of people with disability is no worse than for those without.
It is important to ensure that the student with disability has an active role in any "hands on" lab activity and that they fulfill the core course requirements:
- Allow the student extra time to set up a lab or complete the work.
- Make adjustments to activities, such as using tactile drawings or graphs, or three-dimensional models to explain concepts.
- Investigate adaptive devices for lab equipment to provide access to lab procedures that require fine motor coordination, dexterity and precision.
- Match students with a partner who can manipulate the equipment and materials, as well as carry out the measurement process while the student gives the lab instructions.
- Develop virtual activities that simulate lab or fieldwork
1 Doyle, C & Robson, K (2002). Accessible Curricula: Good Practice for all. Cardiff: UWIC Press.