OSHA Talks About Employers and Employees. What About Students? 

The District's chemical hygiene policy (EBAC-R) says, "Teachers of laboratory type classes will provide safety instruction as it relates to their classroom." What about art classrooms? What about any classroom where chemicals such as inks, paints, and glues are used? What follows is not District policy. It is presented as good advice. It comes from the book The Artist's Complete Health and Safety Guide, by Monona Rossol, and is cited with the author's permission. Ms. Rossol is an industrial hygienist and author who also runs Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety, an organization formed to promote safety in the Arts.


Occupational health and safety laws protect employees including teachers. Students are not covered. If teachers are injured on the job, their needs are covered by Worker's Compensation. If students are injured or made ill by classroom activities, their usual remedy is to hold the teacher or school liable. The liability of schools and teachers can best be protected by extending to students the same rights accorded adult workers. In fact, even greater care and protection is in order since students are less trained and less educated than adult workers or teachers. This means that all occupational health and safety laws designed to protect workers doing a particular job must be complied with and exceeded if students are doing this work. The types of protection which must be provided by employers for workers fall into four basic duties: to inform, to train, to enforce, and to exemplify. The duties of teachers, then, are to meet and exceed these same duties.

  1. To inform. Just as administrators are responsible for informing teachers about the hazards of their work, teachers are responsible for passing this information on to students.
  2. To train. Teachers must ensure that each student knows how to work safely with hazardous materials or equipment.
  3. To exemplify. Teachers must model safe behavior. They must make it clear that safety is more important than finishing the work, cleaning up in time, or any other objective.
  4. To enforce. Teachers must be in control of their students and must enforce the safety rules.

A 1992 bulletin from the Consumer Product Safety Commission stated that art materials with any warning labels whatever are not suitable for use by students in grade 6 and under. These students cannot be expected to understand the hazards of toxic substances or to carry out precautions effectively or consistently. Special training must be given older students who are illiterate, do not speak English, have learning disabilities, or for any other reason cannot readily comprehend directions.

Many high school students already have work experience that involves HAZCOM training. Teachers often are surprised to know that even McDonald's employees receive this training. Training is required for workers doing restaurant work, hair dressing and nails, autobody and repair work, child care, cleaning services of all kinds--any job that involves chemicals. Sometimes employers take advantage of students' lack of knowledge of their rights and do not train them. This violates their rights. Students usually are readily interested in these issues. Students should also be made aware that they may be more valuable to potential employers if they are already familiar with the basic concepts that they must learn during training.

This is a condensation of what Ms. Rossol has to say on the subject. If you would like to read a more complete version, contact Gary Pankow.