5 Everyday Safety Risks at School (And How Design Can Help Solve Them)
Administrators and parents alike are inundated with news of sad or terrifying behavior-related incidents that occur on school grounds. Bullying, harassment, custody issues, and active shooters are real concerns that can be mitigated through both design solutions and protocol. But design can also mitigate the risk of common accidents that occur on school property in areas like Parking Lots & Drives, Playgrounds, Athletic Fields, Special Education Classrooms, and Science Labs & Maker Spaces.
This second article in our series will address science labs & maker spaces. Catch up on the other articles in our series: Parking Lots Safety, Playground Safety, Special Education Classroom Safety, and Athletic Field Safety.
Risk 2: Science Labs & Maker Spaces
Jeff Hoag, Architect
The National Safety Council estimates that 5,000 safety-related accidents occur in American science classrooms each year – accounting for roughly 10% of accidents in schools.1 The rise in popularity of maker spaces in non-science classrooms presents new risk as well. Project learning that involves equipment and a need for movement also requires design that integrates safety.
The best way to reduce these accidents is to limit lab-based classes to 24 students, or to increase square footage to 50-60 net SF per student.2 Designing spaces that fall in that size range can be easier to achieve in new construction, but we have also helped schools renovate in creative ways to gain square footage within the footprint of an existing science wing.
Labs that are shared between classrooms can allow ample space for experimentation while also saving on overall square footage. They have the added benefit of allowing experiments to stay set up when they have a longer duration, but locked when not being used. A primary consideration in the layout and positioning of a lab is to ensure clear lines of sight for monitoring students while in the lab
Considering how and where to store chemicals and flammable materials can improve safety in the science lab. Locked flammable cabinets can save on square footage where storage needs are not substantial. Where storage needs are significant, it makes sense to consider modifying the layout of a science wing to accommodate one or more centralized and secured rooms for chemical storage. Specific safety measures required by code include strategically located gas shutoff valves and the incorporation of emergency shower and eye wash stations.
We know that the needs of the science classroom depend on grade level, class type, and the curriculum itself. Our team loves diving into the details with administrators, teachers, and curriculum directors to brainstorm which kinds of solutions could improve safety and enhance students’ learning.
Ezrailson, Cathy. "Danger in the School Science Lab". Proceedings of the South Dakota Academy of Science, Vol. 92, 2013, pp. 149.
Motz, LaMoine L. et al. NSTA Guide to Planning School Science Facilities. 2nd Edition, NSTA Press, 2007.