Science Safety

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Chapter 9

Guidelines and Standards for Construction and Renovation of Science Facilities in Manitoba Schools

Developing a Science Facility Educational Specifications Plan
Minimum Standards for Construction and Renovation


Winston Churchill said, "We shape our facilities; thereafter, they shape us." To paraphrase the British statesman, a well-designed science classroom is key to the delivery of effective science instruction. Facility planners must, therefore, be conscious of classroom design as it impacts on what can be achieved by both teachers and students.

As Manitoba undergoes educational renewal, there is a need for curricula which support higher-level thinking skills in students. Programs such as the School Achievement Indicators Program (SAIP), Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and Benchmarks for Science Literacy produced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) describe a new kind of science education with an emphasis on high-level thinking.

In response to these trends and as required by Renewing Education: New Directions, the science classroom will become an interactive milieu where students develop skills in literacy and communication, problem solving, human relations, and technology within the context of their studies. The science teacher must be responsive to individual interests, abilities, and modes of learning, and must guide or facilitate student learning in science. Clearly, this approach involves less lecturing and demonstrating to students, and more individual and group activities and experiments.

The teacher's responsibility is to create and maintain an atmosphere which will support this kind of learning. As the students progress to more specialized science activities, a well-designed facility becomes important. At all levels, supportive science classrooms must be flexible spaces which enable the use of a variety of instructional strategies for interactive learning.

Whether a specialized science facility being planned is part of a new school or an addition or renovation to an existing building, certain steps must be taken to accomplish the job successfully. Manitoba Education, Training and Youth requires that all applications for science lab/classroom construction or renovation be accompanied by a Science Facility Educational Specifications Plan. This chapter has been prepared to assist educators and school divisions/districts in developing this plan.

Developing a Science Facility Educational Specifications Plan

Components of a Science Facility Educational Specifications Plan

Specifications are best prepared by a committee selected by a local superintendent and composed of central office staff, principals, teachers, students, parents, and citizens representing various community groups. The composition of the committee will vary depending on the size and complexity of the science classroom(s) to be designed and built. The committee should communicate early in the design process with appropriate Manitoba Education, Training and Youth staff to ensure that the construction or renovation is consistent with departmental philosophy and to receive support in the design process.

The main purpose for developing educational specifications is to provide an effective means of communication between the local administration and the architects and engineers. The specifications should describe in detail the activities proposed for the facility. In essence, the committee's responsibility is to provide a description of the needs for implementing a well-planned science program. The responsibility of the design professionals, in turn, is to design facilities to accommodate these needs. The following five areas should be addressed when developing a Science Facility Educational Specifications Plan.

1. Background Information

In preparation for developing the Science Facility Specifications Plan, the Planning Committee should gather background information in order to clarify the philosophical basis for the science program and objectives of science teaching.

Identification of a school or school division educational philosophy provides direction for all subsequent planning of science instruction and facilities and serves as a benchmark when evaluating facilities and instruction. The philosophy may be taken from a school mission or vision statement and should include reference to Manitoba Education, Training and Youth documents (e.g., Renewing Education ­ New Directions). The philosophy should be stated simply and concisely.

When identifying the objectives of science teaching, reference should be made to the science curricula and support documents as set out by Manitoba Education, Training and Youth. Desired general outcomes in relation to student performance should be stated or listed. Some may wish to list performance outcomes for each grade or course. The more current approach, however, is to think of the major goals of science teaching as being the same at any level.

Major trends in science education should be researched by the Planning Committee. Staff at Manitoba Education, Training and Youth and at postsecondary institutions are able to assist. The impact of trends on the science program, and the resulting effects on facility design should be summarized.

2. Instructional Approaches and Activities

The Planning Committee should identify the instructional strategies that will best accomplish the philosophy and objectives of the science program as outlined in the previous section. Approaches will likely include opportunities for whole class, small group, and/or individual learning experiences, as well as instructional strategies which accommodate individual differences among students (for further information, see Renewing Education: New Directions, A Foundation for Excellence and Success For All Learners).

The committee should list and describe activities that take place in the instructional and ancillary areas. Also indicate the number of persons to be involved in these activities. Knowing as much as possible about the activities will assist the architects' design for a facility that incorporates sound and visual considerations.

3. Student Populations

General information includes grades, maximum projected science enrollment, probable time schedule, number of classes, average class size, courses, as applicable, and number of periods per day or week. From these data, the required number of spaces (e.g., classroom laboratories, teacher preparation rooms, science storage areas, and seminar rooms) can be estimated.

4. Facilities

The physical aspects of a science facility -- components, dimensions, and design -- can enhance or inhibit learning and the use of certain instructional strategies. It is important for facility planners to understand the relationship between facility design and the nature of learning. It is also vital that planners know what characteristics and components are essential to provide the most effective support for well-planned science instruction that meets the needs of all students.

A variety of sources need to be consulted when planning the science facility. Sources include science teachers, students, postsecondary institutions, school board members, custodial staff, Workplace Safety and Health representatives, recent alumni, and Manitoba Education, Training and Youth staff.

Physical aspects to be considered include

a) Space Requirements

Most science classrooms in Manitoba serve both as instructional classrooms and as laboratories. Activities that will take place in the classroom/laboratory are diverse and require different physical support. Teachers should be able to rearrange space to accommodate a variety of teaching strategies, computer applications, and the use of multimedia (e.g., videodiscs). It is recommended that both student and demonstration tables be movable to allow teachers to design the best physical arrangement. Science classrooms should incorporate flexibility to enhance and accommodate present and future learning activities.

It should be noted that the approach used in Early Years science may be one of integration. Therefore, in this case and in cases of a small school setting, it may be better to provide some regular classrooms with a number of sinks, a wet area, and extra cabinets.

b) Safety

Due to the nature of science, science laboratories are among the most hazardous instructional areas in the school. The design of a science classroom/laboratory should promote safety, comfort, health, and ease of maintenance (see the Minimum Standards Section).

c) Environmental Considerations

The Planning Committee should consider factors that affect the visual, acoustical, and thermal learning environment as they have a dramatic effect on human attitudes and behaviour.

d) Ventilation

The ventilation and exhaust facilities of a science classroom must be adequate and independent. Ventilation systems remove odours from the science area directly outside to avoid their penetration into other parts of the building. Ducts carrying fumes, especially those from chemistry classrooms and chemical storage areas, should be made of (or lined with) corrosion-resistant material. Chemical storage areas must be located in a separate room or in cabinets with positive continuous ventilation. Teacher preparation areas cannot be in a room where chemicals are stored. Each school with Senior 1-4 classes should have at least one exterior vented fume hood.

e) Facilities for Handicapped Students

Special consideration must be given to handicapped students when designing any facility. Differences between special education programs and regular education programs are not definitive. All students must be permitted to participate to the fullest extent in science experiences.

The science facility should facilitate full participation in science activities by all students. Adaptations to the facility such as warning bells for the visually impaired and special counters allowing for wheelchair access, may need to be included.

f) Provisions for Media/Computer Usage

With the expanding variety of instructional media being developed, facilities must be planned accordingly.
For example:

Videodisc Players: Teachers may wish to use computers and videodisc players in their daily instruction. Where will the large television monitor be placed? Are there adequate electrical outlets? Can all students see the screen?

Computer Technology: Students may have the opportunity to use computers in a variety of ways within the science classroom (e.g., lab probes, Internet, research, CD-ROMs, and word processing). Are the electrical and communication lines in place to support such activities? Are computer docking stations included in the design?

g) Science Classroom Furniture

It is important to provide furniture which is aesthetically pleasing, physically comfortable, and durable. Considerations when selecting furniture for Senior Years schools include

  • installing stand-up work counters that are normally about 90 cm high
  • installing sit-down counters that are normally about 75 cm high
  • matching chairs or stools with work counters or other laboratory units of different heights (about 25-30 cm from the top of the stool or chair seat to the top of the working surface)
  • using chairs with seats about 45 cm high (standard for use by Senior Years students and adults)
  • using many different materials for bench tops (working surfaces). These include
    • welded fibre ­ not recommended for wet areas, especially where sinks are installed, and where strong acids or heat are used
    • impregnated natural stone ­ recommended for areas exposed to excessive amounts of heat, moisture and acid
    • Epoxy resin (thermoplastic material) ­ most resistant to all materials used in Senior Years science laboratories but currently the most expensive
    • Laboratory-grade melamine plastic laminate ­ recommended for dry areas in all labs

5. Equipment and Materials

Equipment and materials are not included in the general construction contract. Therefore, a budget for equipment and materials should be prepared simultaneously.

The Planning Committee should identify the equipment and material necessary to stock the new science facility, and to ensure that funds have been allocated for this purpose. The general construction contract normally does not include such equipment and materials.

Minimum Standards for Construction and Renovation

The tables on the following pages indicate the minimum features of a science facility.

Codes used in the tables are:

NR ­ Not Recommended
REC ­ Recommended
check ­ Required


It is expected that schools will incorporate these basic tenets in designing the best facilities to meet the needs of their students, teachers, and communities.

Safety Equipment and Utilities (Table 1)
Item or Component 4 - 8 S1 - S4
Science Biology Chemistry Physics
Safety Equipment          
Fire Extinguisher (ABC type) check check check check check
Fire Blanket check check check check check
First Aid Kit check check check check check
Emergency Shower* minimum
Eyewash (plumbed) check check check check check
Safety Goggle Sterilizing Cabinet REC check check check check
Sinks 4 6 6 12 6
Hot water taps 2 2 2 2 2
Acid dilution tank NR NR NR check NR
Water master shut-off valve check check check check check
Duplex receptacles (GFI) 8 10 12 12 12
Electrical master shut-off switch check check check check check
Gas jets (duplex) REC 8 8 10 8
Gas master shut-off valve REC check check check check
Telephone, cable and computer
network connections
check check check check check

* Emergency shower must meet requirements of the MSDS for chemicals used in the classroom (e.g., with some caustics or flammables, a deluge shower is required. Otherwise a hand-held, telephone-style shower is sufficient).

Codes used in the tables are as follows:

NR ­ Not Recommended
REC ­ Recommended
check ­ Required
Room Design (Table 2)
Item or Component 4 - 8 S1 - S4
Biology Chemistry Physics
Classroom size of 93m² check check check check check
Fixed demonstration desk NR NR NR NR NR
Fixed student desks/tables NR NR NR NR NR
Source of natural light (windows) REC REC REC REC REC
Two exits from room REC REC REC REC REC
Fume hood (minimum airflow as stated in
the standards and codes)
NR check REC check REC
Work station for students with special
check check check check check
Computer docking station(s) check check check check check
Perimeter countertop and storage check check check check check


Codes used in the tables are as follows:

NR ­ Not Recommended
REC ­ Recommended
check ­ Required
Table 3: Storage and Preparation Areas
Item or Component 4 - 8 S1 - S4
Science Biology Chemistry Physics
Storage (Chemical)          
Separate chemical storage room
including vented locking acid/base and
flammables cabinets, and continuous room
fan, all as per standards and codes.
check check check check check
Preparation Areas          
Science preparation area consisting of
large sink, h/c water, general storage
shelves, refrigerator, ventilated as per
standards and codes (not to be used as general teacher preparation area/working station or chemical
check check check check check
Emergency shower (for requirements* see
footnote below) must be in a science
preparation area or an adjoining
Adequate electrical outlets to accommodate
specialized equipment.
check check check check check

* Emergency shower must meet requirements on MSDS for chemical use in the preparation area/storeroom (e.g., with some caustics or flammables, a deluge shower is required in the preparation area or adjoining classroom).

Codes used in the tables are as follows:

NR ­ Not Recommended
REC ­ Recommended
check ­ Required



Harbeck, Mary B. "Getting the Most out of Elementary Science." Science and Children. 23.2 (1985).

Hill, Franklin. "A Master Plan for Science." American School and University. 57.10 (1985).

National Science Teachers Association. Third Sourcebook for Science Supervisors. Washington, DC: National Science Teachers Association, 1990.

Showalter, V.M. Ed. Conditions for Good Science Teaching. Washington, DC: National Science Teachers Association, 1984.

Taylor, P.H. Planning of Facilities for Teaching Science in Secondary Schools. Durhan, NC: Duke University, 1977.

Texas Education Agency. Planning a Safe and Effective Learning Environment for Science. Austin, TX: Texas Education Agency, 1980.