By Ken Roy
Posted on 2022-05-02
At your home, whom do you contact in an emergency? This scenario can be more complicated in a school setting, especially if you do not know the correct phone number(s) to call or how to operate the classroom/laboratory phone system. In any emergency, time and calm attitudes are vital. Science/STEM labs can be dangerous places given the potential hazards and resulting risks from power and hand tools, active flames, chemical reactions, and so on. Should an accident occur, you should never have to search for the phone number for the nurse or the main office. You should never have to look for the instructions for using the class phone to dial 911. This information must be immediately available to help keep you and everyone on the scene calm and focused. This is especially true when sometimes seconds/minutes count.
Also be aware that other types of emergencies can occur besides those resulting from a laboratory environment, and again, communications are critical: for example, with natural disasters and weather, disease agents and toxins. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has provided information on its Emergency Preparedness and Response web page. It states, “Emergencies can create a variety of hazards for workers in the impacted area. Preparing before an emergency incident plays a vital role in ensuring that employers and workers have the necessary equipment, know where to go, and know how to keep themselves safe when an emergency occurs. These Emergency Preparedness and Response pages provide information on how to prepare and train for emergencies and the hazards to be aware of when an emergency occurs. The pages provide information for employers and workers across industries, and for workers who will be responding to the emergency.” Visit https://www.osha.gov/emergency-preparedness for additional and critical information.
OSHA’s Fire Protection Standard 1910.165(b)(4) for general industry, including schools, actually addresses the issue and importance of communications. Section (b)(4) states, “The employer shall explain to each employee the preferred means of reporting emergencies, such as manual pull box alarms, public address systems, radio, or telephones. The employer shall post emergency telephone numbers near telephones, or employee notice boards, and other conspicuous locations when telephones serve as a means of reporting emergencies. Where a communication system also serves as the employee alarm system, all emergency messages shall have priority over all non-emergency messages.” (See https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.165.)
The bottom line is that all locations in the school, especially including science and STEM labs, must have emergency communication systems with posted contact numbers. As professionals, teachers may know the correct numbers and how to use the phone, but what if it is the teacher who is the injured party? Will the students know who to call? Will students also know how to make the call?
Every classroom phone should have posted on or next to it the instructions for calling 911, the nurse’s phone number, and the main office phone number. Even in the age of cell phones, these numbers are essential as the in-school first responders (i.e., school nurse, code blue team, athletic trainer, school administrator) can reach the classroom and the injured party before the ambulance can arrive. Time is vital. Having the proper phone numbers listed in an accessible and easy-to-find place on or near all phones is absolutely critical in an emergency.
If your school does not have the required communications program in place as part of their emergency preparedness and response protocol, contact your chemical hygiene officer/safety officer and supervisor/administrator. Share the concern and help develop a communications protocol as soon as possible, including phone number information in all school locations.
Submit questions regarding safety to Ken Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.
NSTA Chief Safety Blogger Dr. Ken Roy wishes to sincerely thank nationally recognized District Supervisor of Science Kevin S. Doyle, Ed. D., Morris Hills Regional District, Rockaway, New Jersey (email@example.com), for his professional review of and contributions to this commentary.
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