Adopted May 19, 2009, Revised & Adopted September 21, 2016

Dear Science Education Leaders,

Science education continues to be in the midst of major curricular and instructional changes. This evolution is being fostered by:

  1. The implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS);
  2. The continued need for hands-on/process/inquiry based science instruction;
  3. The increasing number of outdated and/or insufficient laboratory facilities;
  4. The high frequency of retirements by veteran science supervisors and teachers;
  5. The pressures of shrinking science supply & personnel budgets.

Science educators are legally responsible for making their laboratory instructional spaces safer places for students to learn. In efforts to help science leaders better address these issues, the following five NSELA Safety Position Statements have been updated and approved by the NSELA Executive Board. These position statements reflect and are based on the most current legal safety standards and better professional safety practices. Science leadership should read and be familiar with these Statements in efforts to better protect themselves, science teachers and students. Included in these statements are:

  1. Code of Practice on the Use of Animals in Science Education,
  2. Experiments/Activities with Human Blood and Other Potentially Infectious Materials (OPIMs),
  3. Occupancy Loads in School Science Laboratories,
  4. Science Education Leader Support for the Implementation/Enforcement of OSHA's Hazard Communications & Lab Standard Programs,
  5. Science Teaching Conditions,
  6. Safety & Duty of Care.

Readers having any questions or needing clarification can contact Dr. Ken Roy, NSELA Safety Compliance Officer:

Dr. Kenneth R. Roy
Director of Environmental Health & Chemical Safety Glastonbury Public Schools (CT);
Safety Compliance Officer,
National Science Education Leadership Association [email protected]

Safety & Duty of Care

Adopted by NSELA Board of Directors September 21, 2016

The National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA) recommends all science education leaders advocate, establish and maintain safer school working/learning environments for science teachers and their students by implementing policies that support safer learning environments. At a minimum, meet the legal duty of care owed to their students and teachers in science classrooms and laboratories.

The science education leader needs to work with teachers and administrators to develop policies relative to safety and duty of care. The laws in all 50 states generally recognize that every person owes a duty of care to another to avoid causing them to experience injury from exposure to unreasonable risks of harm from their action or inaction. This “duty of care” requires that each person exercise at least ordinary care that the other person not be injured. “Negligence” is the failure to exercise due care or reasonably fulfill one’s duty of care owed to another, which results in injury or loss to another person. (National School Boards Association). In the education context, extensive case law supports that school districts, administrators, science supervisors and teachers owe a duty of care to their students to prevent them from being exposed to unreasonable risks of harm. School districts owe teachers the same duty of care. In order for school districts to properly meet their duty of care to their students and teachers, certain minimum requirements or standards must be met.

NSELA urges that all science education leaders develop an effective policy statement based on case law in order for school officials to meet their legal duty of care owed to their science teachers and students. In meeting duty of care, they need to advocate/support the adoption of health and safety laws/standards at the local, state and federal levels in the workplace, in addition to implementing and following better professional safety practices including:
1. Hire and Retain Qualified, Competent Staff and Properly Supervise Their Performance:
School administrators and supervisors have a duty to hire qualified and competent employees to teach students. This means hiring teachers who are properly trained in the specialty they are to teach with sufficient knowledge to meet their duty of care. These employees must also be appropriately supervised in the performance of their job requirements to ensure student safety is not jeopardized. If there are allegations of misconduct or failure to perform, these allegations must be addressed promptly and appropriate action taken. School Districts may be held liable for the negligent hiring or retention of employees who fail to meet the duty of care causing injury.
Science leaders must develop safety protocols that ensure and advocate:

a. Appropriate access, use and maintenance of science classrooms and laboratories safety engineering controls (e.g. eyewash, ventilation, fume hoods, etc.) appropriate for the class, activity and level);

b. School adoption of standard safety operating or administrative procedures for science classrooms and laboratories (appropriate use, storage and disposal of hazardous chemicals, etc.);

c. Appropriate access, use and maintenance of safety personal protective equipment when dealing with biological, chemical and physical hazards (chemical splash goggles, safety glasses, gloves, etc.).

2. Provide Adequate Supervision of Students:

The duty of care requires the adequate supervision of students and teachers at all times. This duty of supervision includes adequate supervision of students and teachers while engaged in science classes, labs, and field experiences. The level of supervision required varies relative to the risk of harm and the age of the student. Science leadership needs to help develop a policy which fosters the following components:

a. Duty to Warn – Science leaders must develop safety protocols which include advising students and teachers of the potential risks of harm to their safety prior to and during use of potentially hazardous equipment, materials, etc. For example, remind students scalpels are sharp and can cut skin before dissecting plant specimens.
b. Duty to Inspect for Safety Hazards – Science leaders must develop safety protocols applied before, during, and at the close of activities, actively monitor student behavior, equipment, etc. to help foster a safer working/learning environment and prevent harm to students and teachers.
c. Duty to Enforce Safety Rules – Science leaders must develop safety protocols which consistently enforce appropriate safety behavior and follow a well-defined progressive discipline policy for violations of established rules and procedures for students and teachers.

3. Provide Appropriate Instruction Commensurate With The Level of Risk and the Age of The Student:
Science leaders must develop safety protocols which require instruction that keeps students and teachers out of harm’s way during school related activities. In situations where there is ongoing exposure to potential hazards (e.g. laboratories), safety instruction must be required to be provided on a continual basis. Failure to warn of such hazards or providing a means of avoiding or reducing such hazards constitutes a breach of the duty of care owed to students and teachers.
Appropriate Safety Instruction includes:

a. Duty to Notify of Safety Practices & Procedures – Science leaders must develop safety protocols involving the review of safety practices and procedures by students and teachers. In addition, students should be required to sign a safety acknowledgement form stating they will adhere to the safety practices established by the school and teacher. See NSTA’s “Safety in the Science Classroom” at for a sample form. In addition, teachers must be trained and required to do a safety hazards analysis, risks assessment and corrective safety actions before any lab work is initiated.
b. Duty to Model Appropriate Safety Practices – Science leaders must develop safety protocols requiring teachers to always model appropriate safety techniques with students prior to having them work with equipment or carry out procedures.

4. Provide a Safer Learning Environment:
Schools must provide classrooms/laboratories appropriate for the conduct of the foreseeable activities in that classroom/laboratory. Science leaders have a duty to make sure science activities are only be performed safely in that learning environment. Failure to take appropriate safety precautions or provide reasonable safety warnings relative to foreseeable injuries enhances school district, administration, science leadership and teacher liability.
A Safer Learning Environment includes:

a. Duty of Maintenance - Science leaders must develop safety protocols that ensure science classroom and laboratory engineering controls and personal protective equipment are operational and meet the manufacturers’ standards. For example, if the ventilation cap on a chemical splash goggle was removed, take the goggle out of operation.

The NSELA encourages science leadership to be cognizant of the fact that the duty of care is a factual determination and liability for an injury resulting from a breach of the duty of care depends on individual circumstances surrounding the incident. Factors to be taken into consideration as to whether a school district, administration, science leadership or science teacher met their duty of care and are therefore may not legally liable for the injury resulting from an accident include but are not limited to: age and level of maturation, type of risk, precautions taken to prevent injury, training, level of supervision, legal safety standards and professional standards in the respective industry.

A School Law Primer: Part II Negligence: Legal Pointers for Public Schools: National School Boards Association;
NSTA Position Paper Liability of Science Educators for Laboratory Safety -
Science and Safety – Making the Connection – Council of State Science Supervisors –

Roy, K. (2010). Failure of “Duty to warn”. The Science Teacher, 77(4), p. 10-11.
Roy, K. (2008). Safety and liability. Science Scope, 32(2), p. 12-14.
Ryan, K. (2001). Science classroom safety and the law: A handbook for teachers. Batavia,
IL: Flinn Scientific, Inc.

CREDIT: The NSELA Board of Directors wishes to sincerely thank attorney Kelly Ryan, The Ryan Law Firm, Pasadena, CA, for his time donated in editing this position statement.

Code of Practice on the Use of Animals in Science Education

This code of practice is recommended by the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA) for use in elementary, middle/junior high and high school science classes. It applies to educational projects conducted and lessons taught involving live or preserved organisms in schools or in school-related activities such as science fairs, science clubs, and science competitions.

The purpose of the code of practice is to enrich education by encouraging students to observe living organisms and to learn proper respect for life. The study of living organisms is essential for any understanding of living processes. This study must be coupled with the observance of humane animal care and treatment. The science education leader needs to work with teachers to develop policies relative to the care and responsibility for animals in the classroom.

The following components are strongly recommended for developing an effective policy statement:

I. Care and Responsibility for Animals in the Classroom

  1. Select live animals based on appropriate curriculum applications and pedagogical methodology.
  2. Secure information from trustworthy sources to determine and apply appropriate federal, state and local laws and regulations, and school board of education policies relative to the responsible and safe use of animals in the science classroom.
  3. Acquire knowledge on care appropriate to the species being used including housing, food, exercise, and the appropriate placement of the animals at the conclusion of the study.
  4. A veterinarian physical for the animal may be required by local or state law.
  5. Assure that living animals entering the classroom are healthy and free of transmittable diseases or other problems that may endanger human health.
  6. Foster appropriate handling of animals, while addressing issues such as allergies and fear of animals.
  7. Maintenance of good health and provisions for optimal care based on an understanding of the life habits of each species used should be of primary importance. Animal quarters shall be spacious, shall avoid overcrowding, and shall be sanitary. Handling shall be gentle. Food shall be appropriate to the animal's normal diet and of sufficient quantity and balance to maintain a good standard of nutrition at all times. Clean drinking water shall always be available. Adequate provision for care shall be made at all times including holidays and vacation times.
  8. Supervision should be required by a qualified adult who is knowledgeable about research methods, biology, care, and husbandry of the species being studied.
  9. Plans should be made to control possible unwanted breeding of the species during the project period.
  10. On rare occasions, it may be necessary to sacrifice an animal for educational purposes. This shall be done only in a manner accepted and approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, by a person experienced in these techniques, and at the direction of the teacher with approval of the science supervisor.

II. Experimental Studies of Animals in the Classroom

  1. If biological procedures involve living organisms, every effort should be made to use plants or invertebrate animals and/or simple life forms such as yeast and non-pathogenic bacteria.
  2. Experimental procedures on vertebrate animals should be conducted with a strong respect for life. Procedures shall be effected without producing pain or discomfort to the animal, application of dietary deficiencies or exposure to hazardous chemicals, pathogens, or ionizing radiation.
  3. Surgery on living animals should not be performed without the supervision of a qualified biomedical scientist or trained adult.
  4. Behavior studies should use only reward (such as providing food) and not punishment in training programs. Food should not be withheld for more than 12 hours.

III. Research Investigations Involving Vertebrate Animals

Exceptionally talented students may wish to conduct research. The following procedures should be recommended:

  1. Protocols of extracurricular projects involving animals should be reviewed in advance of the start of the work by a qualified adult supervision.
  2. Preferably, extracurricular projects should be carried out in an approved area of the school or in a cooperative college/university research facility.
  3. The project should be carried out with the utmost regard for the humane care and treatment of the animals involved.
  4. If bird embryos are subjected to invasive or potentially damaging experimental manipulation, the embryo must be destroyed three days prior to hatching. If normal embryos are hatched, provisions must be made for their care and maintenance.

IV. Dissections

Dissection, as an instructional strategy, is discouraged in science classes.

  1. Behavioral studies of live animals are encouraged when appropriate as an alternative to dissection. Additional alternatives to dissection may be addressed via models, computer representations, display specimens and other resources.
  2. In advanced classes, when dissection is determined to be the most effective activity to meet specific and clearly designed learning objectives, preserved vertebrate specimens are recommended.
  3. Teachers should ensure that specimens are studied respectfully and completely to warrant the dissection.
  4. Use reputable and reliable scientific supply vendors for prepared specimens and/or fresh specimens from an FDA-inspected facility (e.g., fish market, supermarket or butcher shop). “Road kills” or other salvaged specimens do not meet prudent safety practice and should not to be used.
  5. Dissections are to be conducted in an appropriate learning environment with proper engineering controls, administrative procedures and personal protective equipment.
  6. Ensure that appropriate dissection equipment is used safely and by design.
  7. Establish and follow procedures for appropriate handling and disposal of specimens.
  8. Parents and students should be notified in writing if dissections are planned in advance.
  9. Local policy should provide alternatives for students who have conscientious objections to dissection.


Occupancy Loads in School Science Laboratories

The academic challenges for science leadership have increased with the redirection of science education over the past two decades. The 1995 National Science Education Standards and the 2013 Next Generation Science Standards (A Framework for K-12 Science Education) were created and designed to establish goals for achievement that are appropriate for all members of the science education community to embrace and foster in the 21st Century. During the last twenty years in science education, major curriculum initiatives and projects have been developed in efforts to improve the teaching and learning of science in schools. All of these projects have focused on the premise that students need to do science, not simply read about it! As a result, the philosophy of hands-on, inquiry and process-based science education has had an effect on curriculum revisions and school building projects across the nation. This approach to science education, in addition to increased student populations, adoption of additional science graduation requirements, increased college level science offerings at the high school level and efforts to meet the national priority of science and STEM/STEAM education continues to drive the need for new construction and renovations of school science laboratories and makerspaces. Through the use of formal laboratory facilities, teachers are better able to foster both qualitative and quantitative data acquisition and skill development in efforts to enhance the understanding and learning of science.

Science leaders are also being challenged to help meet legal aspects for formal academic science laboratories. The "duty or standard of care" required for each student by science teachers acting as a reasonable person must be addressed in helping to make laboratories safer. There is acknowledgement of the limitations of insurance in denying coverage for reckless and intentional acts by science educators. There is also the potential for individual liability for acts outside the course and scope of the employment. In addressing the occupancy safety issues, the items for consideration should include:

  1. The number of laboratory occupants makes a significant difference in traffic flow, trip/slip fall hazards and individual monitoring.
  2. Increasing the number of laboratory occupants in a science laboratory increases the likelihood of accidents.
  3. Higher pupil/teacher ratio over the 24 student maximum professional standard constitutes a threat to laboratory safety based on current research.
  4. Exceeded occupancy loads challenge a teacher to safely handle, transport and use laboratory chemicals and equipment, thereby creating an unsafe working environment.
  5. Exceeded occupancy loads can also increase classroom management issues, which in turn contribute to unsafe conditions.

One of the greatest challenges for science educators is to address the professional quasi-legal and legal occupancy load standards for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a safer teaching and learning environment. Based on current research, a maximum class size of 24 students is the academic and safety expectation for school science laboratories. This is providing the legal occupancy load standard is met which approximates 50 sq. ft. net/occupant in a lab and 60 sq. ft. net/occupant in a "clab" or combination lecture/laboratory. Actual occupancy load is determined by the local authority having jurisdiction ( e.g., fire marshal) based on factors such as square footage, type of furniture, utilities, chemical hazards, energy sources, sprinkler system, and number of exits.

In order to address professional quasi-legal and safety standards based legal occupancy loads for laboratories, the National Science Education Leadership Association strongly recommends the following:

I. For new science laboratory construction or renovations in science laboratories:

  1. Review National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), International Code Council (ICC) codes and other appropriate standards for educational institutions’ science laboratories. Depending on the science educator’s state or town, additional or alternative codes may be applicable and therefore should be researched.
  2. Consult with the local and/or state authority having jurisdiction: fire marshal, building inspector or safety officer for applicable laboratory occupancy load codes/standards.
  3. Be active in contributing to or directly involved in writing education specifications for facilities in efforts to meet occupancy load design expectations.
  4. Help to educate administrators, board of education members, architects and others associated with decision-making power in efforts to better meet or exceed codes/standards for a safer working environment based on functions being effected.
  5. Reduce or eliminate hands-on activities which in the science teacher's judgement are unsafe in cases where laboratory occupancy loads are surpassed.

II. For existing science laboratories:

  1. Review NFPA and ICC codes for academic institutions science laboratories. Again, the science educator’s state or town may have additional or alternative codes, which need to be researched and met.
  2. Have the “authority of jurisdiction” assist to determine the occupancy load design of your laboratory facility.
  3. Work with administrators in efforts to achieve and exceed the code/standard; e.g., changing factors necessary to better meet code/standard, reduction in class size to meet occupancy load.
  4. Reduce or eliminate hands-on activities which in the science teacher's judgement are unsafe in cases where laboratory occupancy loads are surpassed.

III. For science laboratory instruction involving academic considerations:

Science lab occupancy loads should also be determined by the type of course, the age and maturity level and special needs of students. It is important to note that for some classes of younger, more active students, no more than 20 students should be assigned (even if there are 24 "built-in" lab stations). When special needs students are assigned to lab science courses, appropriate professional or paraprofessional assistance should be provided and included as part of the occupancy load factor.


Science Teaching Conditions

Based on increasing enrollment and budget constraints in many schools across the nation, it is common for the following undesirable conditions to exist for science teachers.

  1. Science lab/classrooms have more students and staff, surpassing the legal occupancy load;
  2. Teachers are assigned three or four different lab courses to teach;
  3. Some of their lab class sizes have reached thirty or more, surpassing the professional/quasi-legal standard;
  4. They are teaching in four or five different classrooms during a week;
  5. Their lab prep room is often a distance from their lab/classroom, creating unsafe transport of hazardous materials issues;
  6. Master schedules are developed which do not allow for "team planning" among instructors who teach the same courses.

National and state studies, initiatives and programs (Project 2061, Scope, Sequence, & Coordination (SS&C), National and State science standards, Systemic State Initiatives, and Next Generation Science Standards [NGSS]) have strongly advocated an improvement in science teaching, Pre-Kindergarten through 16.

Furthermore, in order to provide for safer learning/teaching science classrooms/laboratories, legal safety standards and better professional safety practices must be met. Included but not limited to the following:

  1. Legal Safety Standards:
    1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA);
  2. Better Professional Safety Standards
    1. American National Standards Institute (ANSI)
    2. American Chemical Society (ACS)
    3. Council of State Science Supervisors (CSSS)
    4. National Science Teachers Assocation (NSTA)

Progress in science is important to the future of students in society. Science teachers must meet many challenges as they attempt to improve science education and achieve these state and national science goals, and school districts must not place science instructors in conditions which are counterproductive to improving science education.

Therefore, the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA) advocates the following:

  1. The number of different lab science courses assigned to an instructor during any academic term should not exceed two.
  2. The number of students assigned to a science lab class section should not exceed the professional/quasi-legal standard of 24 (and may be less depending upon legal occupancy load levels and the specific needs of "exceptional students"). Research clearly indicates that it is extremely difficult for one instructor to adequately supervise more than 24 students in a lab setting.
  3. Teachers should not be assigned a schedule which requires them to teach the same lab science course in two different rooms, given the safety issues such as transporting hazardous materials.
  4. When considering the lab and lecture aspects of teachers' assignments, a schedule should be developed which ensures that an instructor does not have to use more than two different rooms.
  5. Teachers should be assigned a lab/classroom that is properly equipped for the specific science activities. All teaching laboratories must have appropriate engineering controls, written administrative procedures and personal protective equipment.
  6. A lab prep room should be in close proximity to the science lab/classroom. If this is not possible, the prep room should be on the same floor as the science lab/classroom. In latter cases, it is advisable that laboratory para-professionals or tech support employees should be provided for safer preparation and transfer of hazardous materials.
  7. Teachers should be provided department written safety acknowledgment forms for students, parents and guardians of students regarding appropriate legal safety regulations and professional best practices to be followed in science classroom, laboratories, and field sites. The safety acknowledgment forms should be kept on file for the length of time within individual state statute of limitations.
  8. Teachers should be provided with release time or receive a stipend during the summer to help develop the science curriculum, hazardous chemical management and more. They should not be expected to work on a task of this importance after completing a day of teaching.
  9. A science schedule should be developed which will allow science teachers to do the following:
    1. Participate in team planning with their colleagues who teach the same courses;
    2. Be involved in multidisciplinary team planning with teachers from other curricular areas such as mathematics, social studies, English and technology.
    3. Be involved in multidisciplinary team planning with teachers from other curricular areas such as STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and STEAM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics).
    4. Professional development opportunities should be provided for members of the science staff which will enable them to remain abreast of recent developments in science. Emphasis should be placed on a variety of learning styles and instructional strategies such as cooperative learning and assessment alternatives, as well as on laboratory safety, working with diverse classrooms, and the responsibilities of the science teacher.
    5. Each science lab/classroom should be equipped with educational technology, e.g., computers, appropriate software, and Internet access that support the objectives of the curriculum.
    6. Procedures should exist which will allow for prompt replacement or repair of equipment that is damaged or which becomes inoperative. Also, the science budget should provide for immediate purchase of consumables and early replacement and maintenance of science equipment.
    7. Para-professional support should be provided (to prepare solutions, assemble apparatus, perform the safety checks that are listed in the district's chemical hygiene plan or appropriate state alternative laboratory safety standards), and provision should be made for the proper purchase, use and disposal of hazardous chemicals.
    8. Safety and legal considerations prohibit the use of science laboratories for non-science instruction.
    9. Adequate and secure space must be provided to store science supplies and equipment.
    10. Financial support and release time should be provided for teachers to participate in their professional association(s) and network with colleagues in other parts of the state/nation.
    11. Annual safety compliance training involving legal safety standards and better professional practices.


Science Education Leader Support for the Implementation/ Enforcement of OSHA’s Hazard Communications & Lab Standard Programs

Establishing and maintaining a safer working environment for science teachers, support employees and students in the academic science laboratory and/or field site is necessary and legally required for an effective science program. In this way, the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA) affirms its support and encourages implementation and enforcement of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) Hazard Communications Standard or Right-To-Understand Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) and Occupational Exposure to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories or Laboratory Standard (29 CFR 1910.1450) or individual state law equivalents. In concert with these standards, NSELA advocates the following critical elements for a safer science program to include:

  1. Appropriate access, use and maintenance of engineering controls (e.g. eyewash, ventilation, fume hoods, etc.);
  2. School adoption of standard safety operating or administrative procedures (appropriate use, storage and disposal of hazardous chemicals, chemical inventories, chemical labelling, employee safety training, progressive discipline, etc.);
  3. Appropriate access, use and maintenance of personal protective equipment (chemical splash goggles, safety glasses, gloves, etc.).

NSELA urges all science education leaders to be familiar with and advocate/support adoption of required health and safety laws/standards at the local, state and federal levels in the workplace, in addition to prudent professional safety practices.

The National Science Education Leadership Association further supports the OSHA requirement that school district employers assign employees who are qualified by training or experience to serve as the safety compliance officer/trainer(s) for the Hazard Communications Standard program and chemical hygiene officer(s) for the Laboratory Standard's Chemical Hygiene Program.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards and many state and local government healthcare regulations recognize the need for policies that prescribe safeguards to protect workers against the health hazards from exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials or OPIMs containing bloodborne pathogens, in addition to reducing their risk to this exposure. Schools districts need to develop policies in concert with these legal safety standards which advocate for Standard Precautions to be observed in all science laboratory/classroom/field activities where there is a potential for contact with blood or other potentially infectious material. Standard Precautions is a method of infection control in which all human blood and certain human body fluids are treated as if known to be infectious for bloodborne pathogens.

NSELA strongly advises against the use of human blood or OPIMs in the laboratory/classroom/field activities including but not limited to blood typing and cheek cell laboratory work. Teachers are further encouraged to explore alternatives such as computer simulations and kits without using actual blood/OPIM products. In addition, NSELA supports the legal requirement for annual employee bloodborne pathogens training mandated for all employers where there is the potential for blood product exposure in the worksite.


Bloodborne Pathogen Standard 1910.1030, OSHA: