Resources to teach your students about chemical safety using Safety Data Sheets

Student experimentation in the laboratory is an integral part of the biotechnology education. However, there are hazards in the lab, and when protocols are not followed, accidents can happen. Therefore, laboratory safety is a critical part of scientific training. This includes the use of proper personal protective equipment (PPE), proper handling of chemicals, and one more thing. In this blog post, we are going to discuss the ways that you can use Safety Data Sheets, or SDSs, to teach your students about chemical safety. This can be done as part of your pre-lab prep — in fact, it is a great activity for hybrid, distance, or virtual modes of instruction.

  1. Before starting the experiment, do a quick student inventory. Have they taken a lab class before? What do they know about chemical safety? Do they know what an SDS tells us and how it is used in the laboratory?
  2. Students should review resources to learn about SDSs – our previous blog post, our helpful tip sheet, or our new video.
  1. Distribute the SDS to your students. If this is directly before an experiment, you can give your students the SDSs from that experiment. On our website, we provide SDS for individual chemicals, as well as SDS bundles for kits. As an additional exercise, you can provide the SDS for the same chemical from several vendors and compare the information.
Common Hazard Pictograms.
  1. From the SDS, students should identify the product name, chemical name and formula, and the Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) registry number. The CAS registry number is a unique numerical identifier that allows you to look up information about any chemical in a database. Students can use the CAS registry number and a database (like the NIST Chemistry WebBook) to learn more information about the chemical.
  2. Are there any pictograms in the SDS? What do you think they mean? Check your guesses against the pictogram key, right.
  3. What is personal protective equipment (PPE)? What kind of PPE do you need to protect yourself from the chemical?
  4. Accidents happen in the laboratory. What is the clean-up protocol for your chemical if it spills? What is the treatment if the chemical is ingested? What is the treatment if the chemical is spilled on the skin?
  5. How is the chemical stored in the laboratory? Is the chemical reactive when stored with other chemicals?
  6. There is a lot of additional information included: toxicology information, ecological information, and more. Students should read through the additional sections and identify important information.
  7. After performing this exercise, repeat the student inventory. Do your students have a better idea of chemical hazards and safe use?

After teaching your students proper chemical hygiene and how to read and SDS, the next logical step is teaching them how to record their observations and data in a laboratory notebook. Then, your students are prepared to tackle their first biotechnology experiment!

Photo by Artem Podrez on
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