The legal Considerations of Starting a Science Club

by Terry 6/17/2008 2:40:00 PM

Karen is concerned, and rightly so, about liability and safety issues we would be at risk of building and maintaining a chemistry lab in our garage and starting a science club for a few local teens. Personally, I am of the mind that this is my own business, what I do in my house is my business, and not of concern to anyone else. I think if a lab in my house were strictly for me alone, there would be little issue, except with proper and legal storage and disposal of the chemicals. But I am not limiting a lab to just myself, so I do need to look at the problem more closely.

So I did a little research. I found the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) website to have some good information. In Washington, this is the state department which regulates the cleanup of Meth labs and sets the environmental health and safety standards for schools. I found nothing on home chemistry in the state laws, but then I won’t claim I know how to do an exhaustive search in that arena.

The DOH School Environmental Health and Safety Program has a Student Health and Safety Guide. I downloaded the 460 page document and started to scan through it. The section on Safety and the Law jump out at me. It states:

Safety and the Law

  1. Risk of suit is often greatly exaggerated in your minds; however, it is ever present.
  2. We will show you that there is more protection for you than you think. Fear of litigation should NOT restrict effective, safe teaching and learning. Participatory activities should remain interesting and exploratory. They should not become sterile and ineffective.
  3. We cannot insulate ourselves from danger at any time in our lives. This program is to teach you RESPONSIBILITY and forethought.
  4. We hope to make safety in the lab a HABIT in your teaching career.
  5. We believe that knowledge is the key to any potential problems.
  6. The law requires adherence to regulations and requirements (see “negligence” on next page). THIS IS WHAT GOOD SAFETY IS ALL ABOUT.

(Excerpt from the Safety Guide for Career and technical Education, page 18, Washington State Department of Health)

I cannot argue with what is written there. In the sections following ‘Safety and the Law’ are sections called ‘The Law Defined’ and ‘Safety Forms’. The Law Defined section could be summarized as get your CYA documentation and don’t be negligent. The safety forms include things like parent permission, various acknowledgements, medical treatment consent and safety training logs. I am thinking I will use these, as much as some of it grates on my inner-libertarian to do so. Some of the logs will be useful to record what lab sessions have been covered and by who, which will help to avoid confusion.

I will also make a trip down to the local fire station and talk to the station personnel. I would much rather befriend the local authorities and make them aware of who I am and what I am doing. This is more of an effort to avoid overreaction if anything were to happen. Again, it grates on my inner-libertarian, yet I would rather have the devil I know at my door than the one I don’t.

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chemistry | Personal | Snoqualmie

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About Terry Losansky

Terry Dee Losansky

I am a software architect, actively practice and teach martial arts and live in Snoqualmie, Washington. I have an amazing daughter who is the jewel of my life.

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