UniServe Science News Volume 11 November 1998


A Model for the Teaching of Occupational Health and Safety and Risk Management within the Science Curriculum

Geoffrey Crisp and Simon Pyke
Department of Chemistry, The University of Adelaide

The aim of the project was to develop a model for teaching Occupational Health and Safety and Risk Management in the undergraduate curriculum within the tertiary science education sector. We have now developed a series of modules for students at the Honours, First Year Introductory Chemistry and Second Year Organic Chemistry levels. The models vary between year levels because the teaching and learning objectives differ and are meant to reflect the prior experiences of the students and a desire to encourage an attitude of personal responsibility for safety issues as the student progresses through the Science degree.

Honours Chemistry

A previous small grant from The University of Adelaide had enabled us to collect a wide range of OH&S/environmental/chemical safety reference material from sources such as WorkCover, EPA, OHS unit at The University of Adelaide and these have formed part of a departmental reference library for students. This collation was completed as part of this present project. In order for this material to be accessible by the students a catalogue was needed. The software application, FileMaker Pro was used to produce a catalogue of all the reference material and subsequently placed in the OH&S section of the departmental library. The catalogue contained the title, author and publishing details of each reference. Keywords were prepared so students could search the computer catalogue for particular topics.

Sample questions and answers were prepared for an introductory lecture to Honours students on their OH&S assignments. The course material was aimed at introducing students to their legal responsibilities when handling, storing, using and disposing of chemicals and the responsibilities of employers and employees in terms of chemicals in the workplace.

In 1997 there were 23 Honours students and 11 OH&S assignments were prepared for the students to complete in pairs. In 1998 there were six students and so the best questions were selected from the 1997 assignments and rearranged to form six modified assignments. (The "best" questions were selected on the basis of the quality of answers received for the questions used in the previous year and feedback from the students while attempting the questions.)

Reference material was prepared for the students on how to find information for the assignments. This included an overview of the OH&S legislation that related to chemical safety, a list of appropriate Internet sites, information on how to access The University of Adelaide main library and its on-line data bases, e.g. OHS-ROM, where to find material safety data sheets in the Chemistry Department and how to access and search the OH&S computer catalogue prepared above.

Organic Chemistry II

At this stage science students have had a minimal level of exposure to the issues relating to OH&S and Risk Management. This will change with the introduction of course material in Level 1 Chemistry in 1999. We have combined the objectives of embedding OH&S into the core curriculum material with the students' expectation of safety issues relating to the laboratory by requiring a number of safety and OH&S questions to be completed before each practical. This material is then used as part of the core lecture and tutorial presentations. The advantages of embedding the OH&S material into our computer based teaching and assessment program are that the staff resources required for an ongoing commitment to the modules is minimal and it ensures that the use of the modules does not depend solely on the two original proponents for this project. One of our aims in developing the modules was to use a format that would encourage other staff to use the material.

A computer based interactive tutorial on OH&S for every practical in the current Organic Chemistry II practical course was developed. Questions were aimed at encouraging the students to consider the broader aspects of the work they were engaged in. Issues addressed included the terminology used in Material Safety and Data Sheets (MSDS), how to interpret a MSDS, the legal prerequisites for the preparation of a MSDS, the labelling requirements that exist by law for chemicals, (e.g. transport labelling, dangerous goods code, dangerous goods symbols, EC (European Community) symbols, SUSDP (Standards for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs and Poisons) requirements) and the storage requirements in the laboratory.

The response of the students to the computer based tutorials and hence the success of the project was gauged from anonymous comments that the students could write at the end of each tutorial. Positive comments indicated that the students found the tutorials useful, and a good teaching method.

Level 1 Chemistry

This part of the project has only recently been completed and will operate for the first time in March 1999 and so we do not have student feedback at this stage. The core lecture and tutorial material is being used in Semester 2 of 1998.

At this level the students do not have a high level of experience in the issues relating to OH&S and Risk Management. Students still regard OH&S as being only relevant to the laboratory. We have combined the objective of embedding OH&S into the core curriculum material with the student's expectation of safety issues relating to the laboratory by requiring a number of safety and OH&S questions to be completed before each practical. This material is then used as part of the core lecture and tutorial presentations.

A series of multiple choice questions for 8 out of the 12 practicals in the current Chemistry I course have been prepared. Only the chemicals that are classed as hazardous according to WorkSafe or classed as Dangerous Goods are considered. The questions at this level are aimed at covering the students' responsibilities in basic first aid responses to minor accidents, the properties of the various chemicals used in the practical, disposal of chemicals in the laboratory and safe handling procedures. The questions are designed to "stand alone" as the practicals are not done in any prearranged order. As with the Level II material we have used our past experience with the program Authorware to write a suitable application for the students. In this form they are mounted onto a file server and made available to Chemistry I students from a number of computer suites at The University of Adelaide. The students must complete the tutorials before they are allowed to begin the corresponding practical in the laboratory. The tutorials are marked automatically by the computer and the results recorded. At the end of the tutorial the students may comment anonymously on the exercise.

At first year level the chemistry students have not been formally introduced to material safety data sheets. According to servery staff in previous years the material safety data sheets have always been made available to the students but in practice, very few students access them. Material safety data sheets use specialist terminology to describe chemicals which is often difficult to understand without formal training. In Level I Chemistry it was thought that easy to understand information sheets should be prepared which describe the major consequences associated with the chemical concerned. These sheets were designed to complement the material safety data sheets and not replace them as they are not as detailed. The information sheets were prepared using the information gathered from material safety data sheets from a variety of different sources. The students need to use the information sheets to answer the computer tutorial questions and hence the sheets have been placed on computer and can be accessed by the students whilst completing their tutorial. By the end of the year students will be using the Material Safety Data Sheets as a natural progression once they are comfortable with the format and understand better the information contained within them.

In 1999 we will have OH&S modules operating at Level I, II and III of the undergraduate chemistry curriculum as well as the Honours OH&S course. As part of our ongoing commitment to this project we will prepare an entry and exit survey of students in each of these levels. Since this project was multifaceted and involved a large number of students and subjects within the chemistry curriculum it has not been possible to obtain a quantitative measure of OH&S knowledge of the students overall. We will endeavour to remedy this as more modules are added. We still do not have modules available for some subjects at Level II and III.

A more detailed outline of the project and some sample Honours problems and student assignments can be found at the following URL: http://www.science.adelaide.edu.au/chemist/academics/gcrisp/home/homepage/OHS.html

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UniServe Science News Volume 11 November 1998

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