Science can be exciting, but it also has potential dangers. For example, the field scientist in this photo is collecting water samples from a polluted lake. There are many microorganisms in the water that could make her sick. The water and shore are also strewn with dangerous objects such as sharp can lids and broken glass bottles that could cause serious injury. Whether in the field or in the lab, knowing how to stay safe in science is important.
Wearing protective gear is one way to avoid many hazards in science. For example, to avoid being burned by hot objects, use hot mitts to protect your hands. To avoid eye hazards, such as harsh liquids splashed into the eyes, wear safety goggles.
Following basic safety rules is another important way to stay safe in science. Safe practices help prevent accidents. Several lab safety rules are listed below. Different rules may apply when you work in the field. But in all cases, you should always follow your teacher’s instructions.
Lab safety is always your responsibility.
You are most likely to be injured when you are not paying attention.
1. Always listen to instructions. Properly following instructions can prevent accidents.
2. Think before you act. Acting sensibly will prevent tripping, falling and breakage. Never engage in horseplay in the lab.
3. Report ALL accidents to the teacher immediately. Even when you follow the rules, accidents can happen. Immediately alert your teacher if an accident occurs. Report all accidents, whether or not you think they are serious.
4. Keep the work benches clear of coats and bags. Cluttered desks can cause spillage or breakage.
5. Always clean up your area and put all equipment away properly.
6. Broken glass must be disposed of in the glass bin, not in the garbage.
7. Never eat or drink in the lab. Most chemicals are poisonous.
8. Only use the gas, water and electricity for experiments. Improper use can result in electric shock or fire.
9. Light the Bunsen burners with a flint lighter only. Butane lighters are not allowed in class.
10. Always wear safety goggles when performing experiments. Chemicals can easily be splashed into the eyes.
11. Wear appropriate clothing in the lab, including closed-toed shoes, and remove any dangling jewelry or accessories.
12. Long hair should be tied back.
To be safe, you should also inform your teacher if you have any allergies or medical conditions. You should always know the location of all safety equipment in the lab, and how it is used.
When working with chemicals, special rules should also be followed. Be sure to follow your teacher’s instructions.
- Use your hand to fan vapors toward your nose rather than smelling substances directly.
- Never point the open end of a test tube toward anyone—including yourself!
- Dispose of lab wastes according to your teacher’s instructions.
- Wash your hands with soap and water before leaving the lab.
Field Research Safety
Scientists who work outdoors, called field scientists, are also required to follow safety regulations. These safety regulations are designed to prevent harm to themselves, other humans, animals, and the environment. If scientists work outside the country, they are required to learn about and follow the laws and restrictions of the country in which they are doing research. For example, entomologists following monarch butterfly (Figure below) migrations between Canada, the United States and Mexico must follow regulations in all three countries. Before biologists can study protected wildlife or plant species, they must apply for permission to do so. This is important to protect these fragile species. For example, if scientists collect rare butterflies, they must first get a permit. If scientists collect butterflies without a permit, they may unknowingly disturb the balance of the organism's habitat.
A monarch butterfly.
Examine this sketch of students working in a lab, and then answer the question below.
- These students are breaking lab safety rules. Find at least six things that are unsafe?
- Find things in the picture above that ARE safe, or set up correctly.
- Where is the eyewash station located in your classroom? Explain how it works and when you would use it.
- Describe the fire exit route from your classroom.
- Identify three safety rules that help prevent accidents in the lab.
- Create a safety poster to convey one of the three rules you listed in your answer to 2.