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a well-maintained lab is a safer lab: strategies for involving students in laboratory maintenance.


Administration and funding can cause Engineering/Technology Education (ETE) programs to thrive or die. To administrators, the production/prototyping equipment and laboratory setting are often viewed as the features that set ETE apart from other school subjects. Your lab is a unique gift as well as a responsibility. If an administrator can see that the lab space is not properly maintained, then your instruction and classroom management may come into question. Moreover, if a student is injured while using equipment that is not functioning properly, then the school and/or the teacher can be held liable for the incident (Love, 2014). Therefore, teachers should have maintenance plans established that document the use, routine and preventive maintenance, repair schedule, work order and receipt, and contingency plan for the different equipment throughout the ETE laboratory (Meeks, 1976). ETE labs, as well as the equipment in them, need to be properly maintained to foster a safer hands-on learning environment. Proper lab maintenance plans can differ between schools and even classrooms due to differences in equipment, physical space, and students. However, even as technologies and learning environments evolve, it is important to understand the role of routine and preventative maintenance in the safety of students and teachers alike. Getting students involved with maintaining a safer laboratory can provide instructors with extra support to identify and address broken or defective equipment, as well as establish good practices for students in future work environments. While students or teachers should not be solely responsible for the maintenance of the laboratory, they all must contribute. A carefully developed maintenance plan can involve students, promote respectable workplace practices amongst pupils, help ensure a well-functioning laboratory, and establish a paper trail of equipment maintenance and repair, thereby mitigating risk and sustaining a safer, more effective learning environment. Therefore, the following sections will discuss the role of maintenance in the ETE laboratory, describe routine and preventive maintenance, and detail support for the creation of a student-centered/teacher-supervised maintenance plan.

The Role of Maintenance

ETE teachers, along with building administrators and school system supervisors, are responsible for ensuring the equipment in their laboratories is working properly and has been maintained in a safer way. Because ETE laboratories contain a wide variety of equipment, ranging from hand drills to laser engravers to 3D printers, it is important for teachers to know how to find the maintenance information for each device. Maintenance plans and schedules are typically included with most equipment and can be found in the manual. If a manual cannot be located, then they can be found online or by contacting the manufacturer for a replacement. Also, when some equipment is purchased, a maintenance agreement may be procured as well--meaning that a certified technician affiliated with the company can be contacted for regular service of the device. However, it is important to note that if equipment does malfunction, Storm (1993) recommends that neither teachers nor students should attempt any major equipment repairs (modifying guards or electrical cords, etc.). These efforts should be left to the professionals, as the liability will fall on the teacher or school if any repairs are made improperly and result in harm, For minor repairs (changing blades or filters, recalibrating for precision, etc.), a teacher should keep detailed records of the actions taken. If a machine is not working, make sure that the problem is documented and immediately communicated to your students, other teachers who may use the lab, administrators, and supervisors. The unusable machine should be clearly labeled and locked out so that students or other teachers do not try to operate it.

Routine Maintenance

By focusing on things like overall lab cleanliness, organization, and minor servicing of equipment, routine maintenance aims to maintain current lab conditions (Storm, 1993). As the name suggests, routine maintenance should be consistently carried out after each use of the lab and documented for liability purposes. Routine maintenance can be thought of as a "before you leave" checklist. Students should be involved in routine maintenance, using specifications with clear, easy-to-understand instructions for each area of the lab to document any changes or irregularities. This means that students need to understand how a machine operates so that they can identify and record any improperly functioning equipment. Students can also be tasked with making sure that areas and machines are clean and that scrap materials are discarded or stored for future use. Depending on the lab, this might also include monitoring materials that are used often so that new ones can be ordered before they run out. It is important to remember that the instructor is considered the expert in the lab; therefore, he/she has a duty to inspect for safety hazards before, during, and after all lab activities. The instructor should also conduct his/her own routine maintenance inspection and investigate any issues raised by students.

Preventative Maintenance

Preventative maintenance aims to inspect and service machines at scheduled intervals to detect and address problems before they cause a malfunction or stop working entirely, creating a safer environment while increasing equipment longevity. While routine maintenance should be done every time the equipment is used, preventative maintenance can be done less frequently. Preventative maintenance plans will differ by machine, but all machines should be inspected and serviced regularly, checked for functionality, and have parts replaced periodically according to manufacturer recommendations. Even though traditional production equipment has become smaller, less expensive, and more contained, and labs now include more advanced prototyping equipment, the role of preventative maintenance has not diminished. For example, regularly cleaning a 3D printer nozzle according to manufacturer guidelines can eliminate potential resin buildup that will inevitably affect the quality of the print or damage the machine. This maintenance should be documented as it is completed by teachers and/or students. Storm (1993) suggests that teachers create an equipment service file, including information such as tool name, serial number, maintenance data, warranty data, and service and inspection records. Another strategy is to create a maintenance checklist to track equipment usage and ensure functionality. An example of a 3D printer maintenance checklist is shown in Figure 1. In this example, students and teachers are required to complete the form prior to and after printing.

Creating a Student-Focused/Teacher Supervised Maintenance Plan

If students are involved in maintenance, there must be educational value to the maintenance tasks. The educational value can be as simple as understanding that equipment needs to be properly maintained and prepared to create a safer working environment. Likewise, as Love (2014) states, the safe and appropriate use of tools and equipment when designing solutions to engineering design problems is highlighted in both Standards for Technological Literacy and Next Generation Science Standards. However, once the educational value is established, a student-focused/teacher-supervised maintenance plan can be created by (a) determining what maintenance services are required for lab equipment by referring to the individual manuals, (b) outlining the scope of each service, (c) identifying who can perform the service and, if applicable, the number of students necessary to perform the service, (d) establishing the frequency for carrying out each service, (e) developing a system for assigning students maintenance services, (f) providing a method for documenting each task, and (g) allocating funds for maintenance/repair services in the fiscal budget.

When writing a maintenance plan, it is important to consider maintenance services that are both preventative and routine and understand the capabilities of the students. These services can range from applying oil to the lead screws of a CNC mill to cleaning the lab floors. While most of the services may be routine lab maintenance tasks, one cannot forget to consider the preventative maintenance needs for each individual machine. A sample outline of a student-focused maintenance plan with example tasks is provided online in Table 1, located at This table is provided only to highlight the elements of a plan and is not to be viewed as an all-inclusive list of maintenance tasks. If students are to be involved in any of the identified maintenance services, they should have clear, concrete expectations for each task as well as directions to record task completion and submit comments regarding necessary repairs or replacements. The instructor should provide direct supervision during the maintenance plan tasks and always double-check that all tasks were performed correctly for safer machine operation. It is the instructor's discretion as to what tasks are developmentally appropriate for students to perform. If they have any doubts, the safer alternative is for the instructor to perform the maintenance task with the student assisting in order to provide a learning opportunity while also ensuring the maintenance is performed properly. Figure 2 provides an example of a method to assign students the established maintenance services. Lastly, Table 2 (located at provides a sample checklist for students to monitor and document both routine and preventative maintenance of individual equipment.


Proper laboratory maintenance, while often overlooked, can be the difference between a safer learning environment and a student injury. Routine and preventative maintenance can extend the life of equipment, detect problems before they arise, and mitigate incidents that can result from defective equipment or an unkempt lab. ETE teachers are responsible for implementing plans for equipment and general lab maintenance (Love & Roy, 2017). If done correctly, students can assist teachers in maintaining an effective lab (instructors/administrators/supervisors still maintain ultimate responsibility), thereby learning good practices in organization, maintenance, and safety. While we cannot eliminate all risk, every precaution possible should be taken to assure safer working conditions in the lab (Meeks, 1976). Finally, it is important to remember that tools are not 100% safe, and there will always be hazards and resulting risks, but through routine and preventative maintenance plans, instructors and supervisors can help reduce those risks.


Love, T. S. (2014). Safety and liability in STEM education laboratories: Using case law to inform policy and practice. Technology and Engineering Teacher, 73(5), 1-13. Retrieved from

Love, T, S. & Roy, K. R. (2017). Tools and equipment in nontraditional spaces: Safety and liability issues. Technology and Engineering Teacher, 76(8), 26-27.

Meeks, W. E, (1976) Maintenance of facilities: An evaluation of industrial arts programs in Georgia's public schools (Unpublished master's thesis). Statesboro, GA: Georgia Southern College.

Storm, G. (1993). Managing the occupational education laboratory, (2nd ed.). Ann Arbor, Ml: Prakken Publications, Inc.

William H. Walls is an undergraduate researcher in the Engineering/Technology Teacher Education program in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute at Purdue University. He can be reached at

Greg J. Strimel, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Engineering/Technology Teacher Education in the Purdue Polytechnic Institute at Purdue University. He can be reached at

Have questions or a safety issue that you would like to see addressed in a future Safety Spotlight article? Please send them to Dr. Tyler Love at

Caption: Figure 1. Sample 3D printer maintenance checklist to track usage and ensure safer functionality.

Caption: Figure 2: Example method for assigning student maintenance tasks.
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Title Annotation:safety spotlight
Author:Walls, William H.; Strimel, Greg J.
Publication:Technology and Engineering Teacher
Date:Mar 1, 2018
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