School Safety Regulations and Guidelines

Quick Tips #283


Keeping our children safe is a high priority for everyone. But school safety isn't just about violence control. In many ways, schools share the same hazards commonly seen in industries, as well as a few unique hazards. From laboratories to food-processing areas, schools are like small communities and are loaded with potential safety hazards.


Schools are like all other industries in that they have safety regulations and guidelines they must follow to ensure a safe work environment. However, the actual regulating agency that deals with school safety varies from state to state. For the most part, states have adopted OSHA regulations, while modifying certain requirements to make them more applicable to schools. Typically, the agency responsible for public-sector employee safety in your state also is responsible for school safety. But no matter what regulatory agency oversees school safety, all schools share many rules and regulations. For information on exactly what regulating agency is responsible for school safety in your state, contact your state's government office.

First Aid Concerns

All schools need basic first aid equipment. Bandages, antiseptic wipes, cold packs and hot packs are frequently needed items. Items such as tweezers, scissors and disposable gloves also come in handy.

Many schools usually have one large first aid kit in the school's office or nurse's office. However, classes such as chemistry, art, industrial art and home economics should have their own kits readily available. The kits in these classrooms should contain the necessary items needed to deal with specific hazards in a particular classroom. Industrial arts classes, for example, have additional hazards such as flying debris and welding spatter. Therefore, these kits should also contain burn creams, eye pads and eye-irrigating solutions.

Emergency Preparedness Concerns

Depending on your state's school safety regulations and guidelines, the details might differ, but the basic elements of an emergency preparedness plan are the same. These elements include:

  • a written emergency program to ensure personnel and student safety during and after an emergency
  • an alarm system
  • evacuation plans
  • emergency drills

To develop a successful emergency preparedness plan, four basic steps should be followed:

  1. Identify the types of emergencies you might encounter. There are four basic types of emergencies:

    1. Weather emergencies: These include emergencies such as floods, winter storms and tornadoes. Most can be predicted, but some can occur suddenly and without warning.
    2. Nonweather emergencies: These include emergencies such as earthquakes or hazardous-material emergencies, such as a truck carrying hazardous materials overturning near the school.
    3. Fires: Fires are the most common type of school emergency. A fire can be in a school, or outside a school in a field or another building.
    4. Medical emergencies: These happen more often than some people might think. There could be epileptic seizures, allergy attacks or injuries that could make preparation a crucial step in a positive outcome.
  2. Determine how to respond to the emergency. All potential emergencies have different safety concerns and a response must be customized. For each emergency, the following actions must be considered:

    1. How will you become aware of the emergency?
    2. How will you provide warning?
    3. How will you evacuate if necessary?
    4. What steps are necessary to implement emergency response procedures?
    5. What steps are necessary to return to normal activities?
  3. Assign responsibility. Normally, teachers are responsible for ensuring that their classes respond safely and properly to an emergency. However, there also are other responsibilities including maintaining documentation on your emergency preparedness plan. The emergency program should be evaluated and updated on a regular basis with changes in the school, staff or policies. Also, someone needs to train teachers and other personnel. Everyone in the school should be trained once a program is developed, when there is a change, and at least once a year as a refresher course.
  4. Finally, drills—scheduled and unscheduled—can help determine preparedness. Drills also help to calm fear in case of a real emergency. When conducting drills, it's a good idea to have a person or a group of people monitoring the situation to see how well everything operates. For monitoring evacuations, a simple stopwatch is a good way to determine how quickly and efficiently people can evacuate a building. But before conducting drills, notify the fire department, police and neighbors so you don't cause alarm.

Developing an emergency preparedness plan takes a lot of planning and help from the community. Many times, the plan for the school must also work with the plan already set up with the city. There are programs available that can assist you in developing an emergency preparedness plan. See Quick Tips #108: Employee Emergency and Fire Prevention Plans for more information on this topic.

Pedestrian Traffic Concerns

School walkways are extremely busy places. Between classes and even during them, these areas are filled with teachers and students. In order to comply with applicable school safety regulations, a few issues need to be addressed:

Means of egress: According to OSHA standard 29 CFR1910.35, a means of egress is a path from any point in a building to a public way. The means of egress must be an unobstructed path. Exit doors cannot be locked and obstructions such as backpacks must not sit in hallways. The number of exits must be sufficient for the number of people in your school. The discharge from those exits must lead to a safe, public area that is large enough to handle the occupant load. The OSHA standard details what is required for exits based on your occupant load and your building design. However, you should still check with local school safety regulations and guidelines to find out whether you have any additional requirements.

A great concern is whether the students and other occupants are familiar with the closest exit and the appropriate path. Have small signs posted in each room that indicate the nearest exits and paths to exits. Instructors should go over emergency exit procedures with all new occupants.

Appropriate signs: Exit signs must direct traffic in case of an emergency. Doors that look like they could be exits but are not need to be marked, "Not an Exit" so they are not mistaken as exits during an emergency. Exit signs must also be illuminated by a reliable light source, giving off no less than 5 foot-candles; the word EXIT must be written in letters at least 6 inches high with brush strokes at least 1 inch wide; and the exit sign must not blend into its background. It should be a color and a shape that makes it readily visible.

Emergency lighting: Required to provide illumination automatically in case of a power outage for a minimum of 1 1/2 hours. NFPA 101, Life Safety Code 2003, Section, describes exactly what is required for emergency lighting. When emergency lighting is required, a minimum of 1 foot-candle is required at the light, and a minimum of 0.1 foot-candle required along the path of egress at floor level. Not all buildings and areas require emergency lighting. Refer to NFPA 101 and local municipal codes to determine whether your school needs emergency lighting.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)

Indoor air quality is a growing concern for newer airtight buildings and buildings that have poor or inadequate ventilation. There are two basic illnesses associated with IAQ problems.

Sick building syndrome (SBS): Sick building syndrome is a physical reaction to multiple low-level contaminants. The contaminants might be chemical, biological or physical in nature. The symptoms generally include nausea, headache, fatigue or eye irritation. SBS symptoms usually disappear when the person leaves the building for a prolonged period of time such as over the weekend, but return when the person returns.

Building-related illness: Building-related illnesses differ from SBS in that they are caused by one contaminant. An example of building-related illness is Legionnaires' disease.

Poor building ventilation or new building materials are usually the cause of indoor air-quality problems. To avoid IAQ problems, properly maintain ventilation systems. With costs in mind, many newer ventilation systems use less fresh air than older units, contributing to IAQ problems. A good indicator of insufficient outside air intake is carbon dioxide. OSHA has a proposed IAQ standard that says the CO2 levels need to be maintained below 800 ppm. Although CO2 is not a hazard at this level, it is a good indicator of inadequate outside air intake. Take a closer look at the problem area and identify potential contaminants and stressors to help diagnose other potential IAQ problems. Once identified, they can be eliminated one by one. Often, the activities in a laboratory or new carpeting or furniture can be the culprit.

Janitorial Concerns

Janitorial closets and supply cabinets accumulate various chemicals. The two main safety concerns with janitorial chemicals are proper storage and maintaining compliance with the hazard communication standard.

Chemical storage: To determine what type of storage container you need, you must first understand the OSHA definitions of flammable and combustible liquids. A flammable liquid is any liquid with a flashpoint lower than 100ºF. A combustible liquid is any liquid with a flashpoint at or higher than 100ºF. These two categories are further divided into different classes dependent upon their exact flashpoint and boiling point. This classification determines the amount of liquid you can have before requiring a flammable safety cabinet or safety can. The OSHA standard that specifically deals with this topic is 29 CFR 1910.106. However, local building codes or even insurance agencies might have rules that are more stringent than the OSHA code.

Hazard communication standard: The purpose of the OSHA hazard communication standard 1910.1200 is to ensure that chemical hazards in the workplace are identified and evaluated. In schools, the main areas of concern with this standard are chemical labeling, material safety data sheets (MSDS) and employee training.

Chemical labeling: All chemicals in a school need labels that must identify the material, the appropriate hazard warnings and the name and address of the manufacturer. Most containers provide this information. However, if the manufacturer's label is incomplete or if the chemical has been put in a different container, a new, properly completed label must be applied to the container. Labels used for complying with this standard are an NFR- or a HMIG-style label. It doesn't matter which style of label you choose. The important thing is to be consistent with your labels and train people on how to read and understand them. For more information on labeling, see Quick Tips #200: Hazard Communication Labeling.

Material safety data sheets: All hazardous chemicals in schools need to have an accompanying MSDS. The MSDS is available from the chemical supplier or manufacturer. These sheets contain information about the product's physical hazards, health hazards, routes of entry, exposure limits and precautions for safe handling. Information like this is invaluable for proper use or in case of an emergency.

Employee training: Employees must be trained to understand the hazard communication standard. Specifically, they should be able to read an MSDS and understand the labels. If an employee is buying products, that person should be trained to acquire and file an MSDS for each product.

Hazard communication standard requirements filter down to individual classrooms—such as science labs, art classrooms and industrial arts areas—that encounter or use the chemicals.

Subject-Specific Requirements

Each classroom and subject has its own safety requirements and guidelines for protecting students, but individual school district curriculums might require more. Each classroom needs a hazard assessment based on its activities. Although the following suggestions mirror OSHA requirements, you should check with your state school-regulating agency to determine whether more stringent requirements apply. This document points out only the most common concerns in certain classrooms.

Art and Science

Art and science classrooms require proper eye protection. Indirect vented and nonpadded goggles should be worn when students work with materials that could splash into eyes. The indirect vent prevents the splash from getting to the eyes. The goggles must be nonpadded because padding absorbs chemicals, and chemicals can cause serious facial burns. ANSI-compliant protective spectacles can be used to protect one's eyes from impact when working with materials that are not splash hazards.

Art and science classrooms also require proper ventilation. Vented fume hoods help students who work with materials that give off toxic fumes and vapors.

There also are several specific requirements for art classes. If art-supply fumes cannot be contained through ventilation, respirators might be needed. An MSDS can tell you about your chemicals, and air monitoring can tell you whether you are working above a permissible exposure limit. That will tell you whether respirators are needed and which chemical cartridges are appropriate.

Art and science classrooms also should have spill-cleanup kits. Some universal spill kits pick up oil- and water-based products. The spill potential, in gallons, should determine which spill kit is most appropriate.


Protective gloves guard students against aggressive lab chemicals as well as thinners and solvents used for cleaning art brushes. Chemical-resistant gloves should always be worn to protect the skin. An MSDS usually will indicate the aggressiveness of a chemical. If not, glove companies have additional testing data that can help you select the type of glove you need.

Seek heat protection when you deal with heated glassware or Bunsen burners. Heat-resistant gloves and glassware handling protectors are made specifically for heat applications. Art classes often use utility knives when cutting materials. Cut-resistant gloves can help protect a student's hands from nicks and slices. These knives should be self-retracting so the blade is never left exposed for the next student to grab.

Aprons, and perhaps protective sleeves, help protect novice scientists from chemical burns. Chemical burns also can severely damage eyes, so science labs should be equipped with an eye wash station. Students need to be trained on the proper use of an eye wash. Some schools might even choose to install a safety shower if there a spill might cover a student's body.

Industrial Arts and Technologies

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is needed for many processes in industrial arts or shop classrooms. Eye protection is needed to guard against projectiles created through drilling, lathing, sanding or other mechanical processes. Protective spectacles that meet ANSI requirements are sufficient. Again, if splashing is a concern, indirect vent, nonpadded goggles should be worn. These goggles protect against impact and splash, and are excellent all-around choices.

Cut-resistant gloves should be worn to protect hands from sharp, manual blades. It is important to remember that cut-resistant gloves are only good for manual processes. When cut-resistant gloves are worn while working with fast-moving or rotating machinery, a material could get caught and drag the wearer into the machine. For this application, proper machine guarding is necessary.

Machine guards protect operators and other employees in the machine area. Dangers include point-of-operation hazards, in-going nip points, rotating parts, flying chips and sparks. Although eye protection is used to protect a user from flying chips, machine-guarding still is required to protect other parts of the body that cannot easily be covered.

Welding students should wear proper welding goggles, welding shields, welding gloves, welding aprons and spats, and teachers should closely monitor and enforce safety rules.

Orchestra and Band

The main concern with band practices is hearing protection because decibel (dB) levels can exceed OSHA-recommended limits. The most concern is for students who have instruments directed near their heads, such as the students sitting in front of trumpets or trombones. Earplugs can reduce sound levels without distortion so that the true sounds around them will not be affected.

Home Economics

Home-economics classrooms mirror many of the hazards found at home. Burns and cuts are even more likely in the classroom because of distractions from other students. Crowding also becomes an issue when students work with others because someone might push or bump another classmate, leading to a serious accident. General first aid procedures should be taught before any hands-on teaching. Students should also be aware of the types and severity of burns and other potential dangers. Students should always be aware of what other students are doing and where they are.

Commonly Asked Questions

Q.   What type of eye protection is appropriate in a classroom laboratory?
A.   The best choice is indirect-vent, nonpadded goggles. Indirect-vent goggles protect students' eyes from chemical splash. They must be nonpadded because the padding, if saturated with chemicals, can cause serious facial burns.
Q.   What respirators are appropriate for art classes?
A.   First, know the chemicals in your classroom. This information is found on the material safety data sheet (MSDS) that accompanies a particular product. Air monitoring for that chemical can then tell you what concentrations individuals might face. With that information, you can get suggestions from respirator companies on the best respirator for your application.
Q.   How do I set up an emergency preparedness plan?
A.   First, define what emergencies you might encounter. Then, detail a plan and what will need to be done during each specific emergency. Your local government might be able to help with the details. If not, there are programs available to help you develop a plan.
Q.   Whom do I call to find out who my regulating agency is?
A.   Contact the U.S. Department of Education at 800-872-5927.



National Center for Education Statistics:

U.S. Department of Education: or 800-872-5927.

29 CFR 1910.37Means of Egress


Related Documents:

Quick Tips #108: Employee Emergency and Fire-Prevention Plans 
Quick Tips #120: Emergency Shower and Eye Wash Station Requirements
Quick Tips #125: Personal Protective Equipment Requirements
Quick Tips #150: Hazard Communication Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1200
Quick Tips #169: General OSHA Machine Guarding Requirements
Quick Tips #191: Chemical Resistant Gloves Guide
Quick Tips #200: Hazard-Communication Labeling
Quick Tips #207: Basic First Aid Procedures
Quick Tips #260: Effective Hearing Conservation Program Elements
Quick Tips #265: Emergency Lighting and Exit Sign Requirements
Quick Tips #275: Types of Respirators

(Rev. 1/2012)

Find even more information you can use to help make informed decisions about the regulatory issues you face in your workplace every day. View all Quick Tips Technical Resources at

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Please Note:
The information contained in this publication is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This publication is not a substitute for review of the current applicable government regulations and standards specific to your location and business activity, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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