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Safety Blog

Long Overdue: Results From a National STEM Lab Safety Study

By Ken Roy

Posted on 2022-10-03

What Are the Implications for Safer STEM Teaching and Learning?

Safety plays a critical role in our daily lives. From the equipment we use in our kitchen to the advanced safety features in our vehicles, safety is a core consideration in every scientific discovery, and technological and engineering innovation. Safety is also an enduring concept, one that has been a vital component of early manual arts and science programs to present-day design-based STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) instruction in laboratories, makerspaces, Fabrication Labs (Fab Labs), libraries, community centers, and outdoor education programs (Love and Roy 2022).

In May 2022, the book Safer Engineering and CTE Instruction: A National STEM Education Imperative: What the Data Tells Us was published; it was based on a research study conducted by Tyler S. Love (Penn State University, Harrisburg) and Kenneth Russell Roy (NSTA Chief Science Safety Advisor). This book is now available in a free downloadable PDF format. (See the last paragraph for instructions for accessing it.) 

The study’s findings are presented according to regional and national averages reflecting safety factors, safety characteristics of facilities, and instructor and student safety practices relative to STEM and Career and Technical Education (CTE) learning spaces. The book’s purpose in part was to raise levels of awareness about the need to improve and/or adopt updated STEM and CTE safety policies and practices for a safer teaching and learning experience. In addition, the book supports critical information inquiries for necessary safety resources needed by professional education associations, state education departments, teacher preparation programs, administrators, school districts, teachers, and others (e.g., community makerspaces). In this way, this blog post’s purpose is to briefly introduce some of the key findings from the study and include a limited discussion.

What Exactly Is STEM?

Before the findings are presented, it is important that the readers understand the term STEM within the context of the study. STEM is used in reference to science, technology and engineering (T&E), CTE, and integrated STEM activities, which could include observations, hands-on investigations, explorations, demonstrations, and/or field activities and investigations. These activities could encompass crosscutting teaching and learning opportunities that integrate concepts from additional content areas (mathematics, the arts, etc.). STEM education safety is applicable across science, T&E, CTE, and other content areas involving scientific inquiry, engineering design, science and engineering practices, problem-based learning, design-based learning, and career and college readiness (Love and Roy 2022, p. 10).

Summary and Brief Discussion of Findings

The study revealed many findings that teachers, supervisors/administrators, state departments of education, teacher educators, and others need to be aware of and address. The following were among some study results that had the most alarming safety statistics and are well worth highlighting. 

  1. A large percentage (52%) of teachers reported having four or more preps per semester, which could place increased safety responsibilities on teachers (e.g., additional setup and maintenance). Previous studies have found more than two preps in a semester to contribute to increases in accidents. 
  2. Regarding facilities, the study revealed a noticeable lack of safety zones, access to eyewash stations and showers, fully stocked first aid kits, emergency power shutoff controls, ventilation for soldering, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for welding/casting/molding in lab facilities.
  3. The study also indicated districts should invest in air filtration for operating 3-D printers, but it was reported absent frequently in this study (75% reported no 3-D printer ventilation). Emerging studies have found hazardous levels of ultrafine particles (UFPs) are often emitted from desktop 3-D printers. 
  4. School nurses, STEM and CTE departments, district safety officers, and the local fire marshal should all have copies of Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for all hazardous materials/chemicals found in STEM and CTE labs within a school or library. 
  5. A large percentage of teachers noted they did not require a signed safety acknowledgment form, passing of safety tests, use of safety glasses/indirectly vented goggles, securing of long hair and loose jewelry/clothing, and wearing of closed-toe shoes before any student was allowed to conduct lab activities. This presents serious legal and safety issues, as many state statutes require appropriate eye protection in addition to better professional safety practices, which this study found were not followed consistently or steadfastly.
  6. Only 38% of participants reported completing the simple task of testing their eyewash and showers for several minutes every week as called for by the American National Standards Institute/International Safety Equipment Association (ANSI/ISEA) Z358.1-2014 eyewash/shower standard. 
  7. There was an identifiable lack of safety training, as only 54% of participants reported receiving such training during undergraduate technical and/or teaching methods courses. This not only puts students at a higher risk of an accident, but also does so for the teacher! Teacher preparation programs and mentor teachers should ensure safety is a core focus for all preservice teachers. 
  8. There was also an identifiable lack of safety training provided by school districts. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers (school districts) to train employees (teachers) upon initial hiring, anytime thereafter when a new hazard is present (e.g., new equipment, new chemical, etc.), and when there is a new job assignment in the workplace (STEM or CTE lab). Further research featuring statistical analyses from the data in this study revealed that a lack of safety training, along with other factors, were significantly associated with increased accident rates.

Free New Safety e-Book

Given the critical need to address safety in STEM, CTE, and other school lab/makerspace areas where science and engineering instruction occurs, the authors in collaboration with ITEEA (International Technology and Engineering Educators Association), NSELA (National Science Education Leadership Association), and ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education) have published this book in a free downloadable PDF format. The book provides practitioner-focused recommendations on how to better protect teachers, supervisors, and administrators from legal entanglements by proactively addressing potential safety hazards and resulting risk assessments and implementing appropriate safety actions. 

In addition to the book being shared on the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), NSELA, and MIT’s Edgerton Center K–12 Makerspace Resources web pages, it is also indexed in the ERIC database by the U.S. Department of Education. When visiting, click on the Direct Link icon in the upper-right corner to access the link for downloading the free book. 

The authors thank ITEEA for ensuring this was a free resource so teachers and their supervisors/administrators can easily access the book and use it to address the alarming status of safety in our school STEM labs, CTE labs, and makerspaces.

Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

Safety Blog Acknowledgement

NSTA Chief Safety Blogger Dr. Ken Roy wishes to sincerely thank nationally/internationally recognized technology education and engineering safety specialist Dr. Tyler Love (assistant professor of Elementary/Middle Grades STEM Education at Penn State University’s Capital Campus in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) for his professional review of and contributions to this commentary.


Love, T. S., and K. R. Roy. 2022. Safer engineering and CTE instruction: A national STEM education imperative. What the data tells us. Reston, VA: International Technology and Engineering Educators Association.

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