Design of laboratory safety modules in secondary schools

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With the recent emphasis on activity-based learning in secondary science, especially chemistry requires the provision of facilities and equipments for safer instruction. This is because the teaching of science will only be meaningful to secondary students if relevant scientific activities including experiments are integrated with classical lectures on theory. This of course implies that secondary students now would have to spend more time in the science laboratories. Hence , it is of paramount importance that they are aware of the potential hazards involved and the correct ways to minimize these hazards. Traditionally, the responsibility lies heavily or entirely on the shoulders of the teachers involved. Students are often involved in the handling of chemicals and equipments which they may not know much about. This is worrying as it is not likely that students with only limited laboratory safety knowledge from lower forms can cope with all aspects of good laboratory practices required at the higher forms. Consequently, students urgenly need planned modular activities that can constantly remind them of laboratory hazards. In order to tailor the module to suit the needs of students, a survey was conducted in May, 96 to seek the opinions of teachers on the most concerned problems / facilities in the laboratory as well as the experiments they consider as most hazardous. The results of this survey thus serve as the backbone of the safety module. The survey on 426 schools in which 224 responded revealed that the teachers are most concerned about the harmful chemicals, mainly gases produced during the practicals and the efficiency of the fume hoods/cupboards in removing these from the laboratory. A list of the most hazardous experiments are also obtained. The development of the safety module is thus based on these informations. The proposed modules are an attempt to develop a course of study in chemical safety that will give secondary students adequate background for their work in the laboratory. For these module to be effective, it is important that the teachers can pinpoint the students' need in chemical safety. This can be acheived through a series of planned literature searches based on laboratory activities and procedures. These searches must be carefully planned before any laboratory activities with potential hazards and executed to a large extent by the students under the supervision of the teacher. Before each activity, the investigation involved is stated. Following this are clear statements of the objectives, mainly aimed at the awareness and reduction of potential hazards. The students are then guided to carry out a literature search on the topic and present their findings, using role play if desired. Initial trials showed that the students find this more interesting and claimed to understand a lot more on laboratory safety. In conclusion, in order to minimize the potential hazards in the science laboratories, especially the chemistry laboratory, it is of utmost importance that the students are aware of the potential hazards associated with each activity in the laboratory and the appropriate ways to reduce the possibility of these hazards from happening. This is best acheived through activities in which students are actively involved in the learning process.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1996


Tsang, P. K. E., & Ho, K. C. (1996, November). Design of laboratory safety modules in secondary schools. Paper presented at the Hong Kong Educational Research Association (HKERA) 13th Annual Conference: Restructuring Schools in Changing Societies, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, China.


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