Learning by Accident – Do I Have to Wear Goggles?

accidental discoveriesA teacher began a project where students were asked to build a solar car. Students were instructed to take parts from last year’s projects. The teacher supplied students with the necessary tools that included screwdrivers, pliers, and wire snips. They were instructed to find parts that would be suitable for axles, gear assemblies (transmissions), car body frames, and switches. The solar panels supplied by the science department delivered a low voltage and current (6V, .5 amps). As the department head walked past the class, he stopped and asked the teacher to have students put on goggles. Was this action warranted?

Eye goggles should be used when there is a risk of lab materials entering the eye. Re-examine this particular activity. Students are prying, pulling and cutting apart hard plastic, metal and cutting wires. In all of these cases, fragments of the material may fly into the air. All people in that room should be wearing goggles for the entire activity, including cleanup. Additionally, equipping each student with a set of work gloves will prevent the cuts that will likely occur. As student compliance is likely going to be an issue, decide well ahead of the activity how you are going to respond. This may require verbal reminders, sit out time or complete removal from the classroom.

In 2001, a student was instructed to bend a stiff wire as part of a project. The teacher did not provide just-in-time instructions with regard to safety. Students were not given glasses to wear, and during the procedure, the wire punctured his eye.

With regards to safety instruction and protective equipment, the court stated that:

“The standard is that of a reasonably careful parent who must guard against reasonably foreseeable risks, not remote possibilities.”
“To require more and contend that a prudent man must foresee any possibility would render impossible any practical activity.”

In this instance where stiff wire was being bent, was this accident a remote possibility, or probable and foreseeable? Was the student partially to blame as he had not requested goggles or gone to the drawer to get them? The court ruled that the accident was both probable and foreseeable, and that there was no contributory negligence on the part of the student.

Goggles are to be used when there is a possibility for lab materials or equipment to enter the eye. High impact glasses with side shields have limited use in science as they can allow materials to enter via the gap between the face and the glass rim. In every case where high impact glasses may be used, goggles can always be used. Face shields are to be used in conjunction with goggles and are appropriate only for teachers, and used when handling chemicals such as corrosive chemicals.


Michaluk v. Rolling River School Division No. 3 et al, 2001 MBCA 45 (CanLII) — 2001-03-16 Court of Appeal — Manitoba.

Submitted by a STAO/APSO member
Learning by Accident is a blog feature, in which real-life lab accidents or incidents were recounted and explained. The goal is to highlight the consequence of ignoring safety rules so that science educators will be further encouraged to become knowledgeable, and to take appropriate action, in areas of safety that affect their daily activities in the science classroom. Submissions are still encouraged. Anonymity will be guaranteed.