From: K Roy <safesci**At_Symbol_Here**SBCGLOBAL.NET>
To: DCHAS-L <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU>
Sent: Tue, Apr 15, 2014 11:25 am
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Class sizes
Fire Codes: Laboratories under the NFPA Life Safety Codes and/or the International Fire Code have occupancy load limits. The load codes do not dictate the number of students that a lab can be built for but do prescribe the number of occupants allowed who can safely exit (get out alive!) the lab. The local fire marshal in most schools is the "authority of jurisdiction" over the school district in these matters - not the superintendent of schools! This is similar to auditorium, gyms, etc. under the jurisdiction of the fire marshal with signage posted. To maintain a safer working environment, the science laboratory must be analyzed on the basis of determining the design load for safer exiting capacity. If in doubt, have the "authority of jurisdiction" assist to determine the occupancy load design of the science laboratory.
Building Codes: The International Code Council or regional code associations like BOCA (prior to 2003) also sets occupancy loads for academic science labs. Teachers need to check with local building officials or building prints to determine the loads which science labs were designed to accommodate.
Professional Standards/Best Practice: Although quasi-legal - they are now considered at almost equal weight with legal standards in the courts. Science teachers need to go to NSTA.org and check out the position papers dealing with safety. Professionally - they recommend no more than 24 students providing the occupancy load can accommodate them. Remember the occupancy load depends on the size of the lab, number of exits, hazards and more relative to the fire and building codes. The NSTA position papers (2) which address occupancy loads include: Liability of Science Educators for Laboratory Safety http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/liability.aspx, and Safety and School Science Instruction http://www.nsta.org/about/positions/safety.aspx.
"Duty of Care" Legal Requirement: As a professional, the science teacher also has what is known legally as "Duty or Standard of Care." The teacher must secure a safer instructional environment for students and other employees. Science teachers and school administrators have potential liability issues if certain types of experiments are conducted in a lab which they know are over the occupancy load. Until the occupancy load issue is addressed, the teacher must consider in earnest cutting back or eliminating any activity which could be unsafe for him/her selves and students until the instructional space meets the occupancy load - not surpassing it. Knowing the safety rules (including appropriate occupancy load factors) and blatantly disregarding them could be construed as reckless or willful misconduct. Normally for acts of simple or ordinary negligence, science teachers in most states and towns are covered under the sovereign immunity principal. However, if a science teacher's conduct is deemed willful or reckless, then the state or town may not be required to pay for the defense or the resulting money damages.
Sent: Tuesday, April 15, 2014 8:36 AM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Class sizes
Last year or so there was discussion about class sizes for chemistry lab classes. Are those sizes mandated by a regulatory agency or suggested by a non regulating organization. The specific problem I need to address is potential overcrowding in high school labs designed for 24 students. Current attitudes in education are financily driven not safety driven.
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