Students with technical majors must take scientific laboratory courses and many apply their knowledge by engaging in various competitive technical design teams. This requires them to spend time in labs and/or workshops, which can be hazardous environments.
The survey reported on here examines the safety training exposure and knowledge among students on technical competition teams.
Upon earning their degrees, these students will become practicing engineers and scientists. Their safety awareness and attitude toward risk is often being formed while in college and will follow them into their professional careers.
Young engineering and science students often participate in technical design teams and class project teams during the academic year. At Missouri University of Science and Technology, Formula SAE race cars, ASCE Concrete Canoe, robotics competitions and aircraft designs are just a few examples of these opportunities (Student Design and Experiential Learning Center, 2014). To prepare for the competitions, students spend time in campus workshops where they encounter different types of hazardous and flammable materials, machines and other hazards. Similarly, students majoring in either engineering or science majors conduct lab experiments as part of their required academic curriculum. Because their safety training is often inadequate, these college students are exposed to numerous hazards.
Over the past decade, concerns have grown about the frequency of academic laboratory incidents that have produced severe injuries and deaths. For example, a graduate student conducting a chemical lab at Texas Tech University lost three fingers, burned both his hands and face, and injured an eye in an explosion that destroyed the entire laboratory facility (CSB, 2010). A 23-year-old female student at UCLA died of second- and third-degree burns suffered while conducting a research experiment in a campus lab (Christensen, 2009). Another student died of asphyxiation due to neck compression when her hair caught in a lathe machine in Yale University's workshop (Henderson, Rosenfeld & Serna, 2012). Four students from the University of Missouri-Columbia were severely injured during a hydrogen explosion in June 2010 (CSB, 2010). Two University of Maryland students suffered first- and second-degree chemical burns as a result of a chemical explosion attributed to improper waste management (Kemsley, 2009).
Investigation reports of these incidents cite causes such as improper safety procedures, lack of training, improper training documentation and not wearing PPE (Kemsley, 2009). These events suggest that college students lack minimum safety awareness and training in safe work habits.
The U.S. workforce employed 19.5 million workers ages 16 to 24 in July 2012 (BLS, 2012). For the period from 1998 to 2007, the U.S. recorded 3.6 deaths per 100,000 young workers (BLS, 2012). Furthermore, 7.9 million nonfatal injuries involving members of the same age group were treated in emergency departments (CDC, 2010).