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When classrooms are used for laboratory experiments

The UFT was notified that in some schools laboratory sessions have been conducted in classrooms and not in the labs due to lack of available space. Many of our schools are old and were not built to accommodate the growing numbers of students; however, this does not mean that our students should be in unsafe situations. Regular classrooms are not designed for hazardous chemical use and their use should be discontinued.

Some possible safety hazards associated with using classrooms for laboratory experiments by students:

  1. Classrooms lack emergency flushing equipment such as safety showers or eye wash units. If a student is splashed by an acid there is very little time to get to an eye wash before permanent damage may occur.
  2. The classrooms are not equipped with lab fume hoods to control chemical vapors or gases.
  3. The classrooms do not have emergency chemical spill control materials, which should be immediately available if a spill occurs.
  4. The classrooms do not have table tops that are chemically resistant.
  5. Classrooms often lack sinks that serve as a water source for proper clean up of work area after experiments possibly resulting in student injury from chemical residue left on the table tops. The lack of a water source is a violation of the Chemical Hygiene Plan, Administrative Controls section, which states the following:
    • 5.2 g. “Wash hands or other exposed areas thoroughly before leaving the laboratory.”
    • 5.2 m. “Keep the work area clean and uncluttered and clean up the work area upon completion of an operation.”
  6. Work in classrooms creates problems with collecting chemical waste generated from experiments and increases the possibility of chemical spills in transporting chemicals and/or waste to and from classroom through the hallways.
  7. The classrooms do not have personal protective equipment (goggles) that students are required to wear when handling chemicals.
  8. The Building Code of the City (DOB) of New York Local Law #76:
    Requires a net floor area of 20 square ft per occupant for classrooms and 50 square feet per occupant for laboratories. The DOB considers labs an increased hazard and mandates specific design elements not found in classrooms.
  9. Most high school classrooms lack available storage space for student back packs/coats thus causing the potential for trips and accidents involving laboratory chemicals.

If your school is using classroom space for lab work, the supervisor should be notified. The Department of Education Chemical Hygiene Plan states:

Section 2.5 Responsibilities of the Employee

  • Report potential health or safety hazards to the supervisor or chemical hygiene officer so that corrective actions can be taken

Any or all of the above that relate to your particular school can be cited in the notification to the Administration of your school. Please make sure you also notify your school chapter leader and the Laboratory Specialist chapter leader at the UFT so the UFT Health and Safety Department can follow up.

Protect yourself — put it in writing.