Hands-on Learning at UVA

UVA Policy applicable to Shop & Studio Safety

ID: SEC-005 - Safety of Students Working in Laboratories, Shops and Studios

A number of our students engage in "hands-on" learning experiences as part of their education at the University of Virginia. In fact this trend is on the increase at the University. Introducing technological advances and robust powered equipment to the marginally "hands-on" experienced student can present some challenges.

University faculty and staff who create and oversee these experiences have a responsible role to recognize risks inherent in the tasks, processes and environment and to prepare accordingly to prevent injuries as a result of these risks. Injuries can be very significant when powerful equipment is used (such as amputations if equipment is not properly guarded or the operator is insufficiently trained). A fatality can even occur because of the extent of injuries or from an electrocution if protective covers are removed exposing live conductors or equipment wiring is damaged. Here are just a few of the many hands-on learning experiences our students pursue.


A Popular Mechanics [PM] article [10/09/2008], reported that with the new revolution of Do It Yourself (DIY) individuals, there has been a significant rise in injuries with the use of power tools. Most DIY do not have the years of experience and skills of professional carpenters and wood workers. This is a similar situation for our students. They have the challenge to become proficient on multiple and inherently dangerous equipment that is made accessible for their projects, research and extracurricular activities. The PM article highlights one sobering statistic on table saws: There are about 600,000 injuries per year and 3,000 of those injuries result in amputations. This type of equipment as well as other cutting saws is accessible to students for "hands-on" shop experiences in areas such as: Drama, Art Studio, Architecture School, Bio Medical Engineering, Engineering and Physics machine shops, auto shops and other similar areas.

Due to the severity of risks when using powerful equipment (i.e. lathes, cutting saws, welding, etc.) mistakes can be irrevocable and even result in a fatality. Unfortunately, fatalities have occurred at other Institutions that provide "hands-on" learning experiences in shops and laboratories.

Death of College student at Yale University (2011) – Yale University President Richard Lewis made this statement through the University's Public Affairs Office: "Last night Michele's hair got caught in a lathe as she worked on a project in the machine shop…her body was found by other student's working in the building. They responded immediately and called the police".

Mr. Lewis continued to express the University's "paramount concern for their students' safety" and as such he initiated a thorough review of safety policies and practices of labs, machine shops and other shops where power equipment is accessed and operated by undergraduates, this included arts and science facilities. This accident occurred in the early morning hours and the student was alone in the shop. She had received training on the equipment she was working on and was considered proficient.

However, she did not have her hair properly secured and it got caught in the lathe leading to her death. Our University Policy encourages that students never work alone. Another individual's presence may have been able to make a difference in the fateful outcome, perhaps a friendly reminder of the safety rules to secure hair or to have cut off the machine.

What can you do to provide a safe learning "hands-on" environment?

To avoid any unfortunate incident at our Institution requires a successful balance between the pursuit of knowledge and creativity and implementing appropriate safety measures and oversight for our students. The accompanying University Policy: ID: SEC-005 - Safety of Students Working in Laboratories, Shops and Studios provides safety considerations and initiatives. All areas of Safety are important and work together to achieve the safest environment and process feasible.

Key elements include:

  • A careful review of potential and recognizable hazards;
  • Removing hazards to create a working and learning environment free of risk of injuries (this is an active and ongoing process);
  • Developing training to help students become safely proficient when operating power equipment made available to them;
  • Developing and conveying relevant safety procedures, rules and expectations to the students;
  • Provide knowledgeable oversight and monitoring of students when working in areas where there is hazardous equipment, processes or environments.

Assistance is always available from EHS personnel and is strongly encouraged.


Accidents with power tools almost always involve things that could have and should have been avoided. Everyone at UVA needs to be responsible to use all equipment as intended and designed by the equipment manufacturer. Equipment Operator manuals should always be available and consulted to ensure proper operation. In fact, Virginia Occupational Safety & Health (VOSH) General Industry Standards requires us, the Employer (UVA), "to comply with the manufacturer's specifications and limitations applicable to the operation, training, use, installation, inspection, testing, repair and maintenance of all machinery, vehicles, tools, materials and equipment."

Virginia Administrative Code 16VAC 25-60-10; Part III Occupational Safety and Health Standards - Section 120 General Industry Standards

UVA students using good safety practices to operate a Table Saw.
Students are using push sticks to safely move the material through the cutting blade;
the blade guard is in place and the saw is hooked up to local exhaust ventilation (LEV).

Service Satisfaction Survey
Please complete this brief survey and give us your opinion about the services Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) has provided to you. All completed surveys are sent to the Director of EHS.