The Cautious Chemist Corner: Safety in the Classroom and Laboratory


Chemistry classroom accidents have been in the news too often recently. I hazard to suggest that there are smaller incidents that never make the news because there are luckily no serious injuries. We need to be vigilant in our safety concerns to protect our students and ourselves from any accidents and exposure to hazardous substances. We also need to be aware of theft concerns. Unfortunately, students may be looking for ingredients to experiment with explosives or to manufacture illicit drugs.

The American Chemical Society Committee on Chemical Safety has graciously agreed to provide guidance to our readers at ChemEd X on safety issues. Please post your questions/concerns here or to my Twitter account @CullenChemEdX.

Check out the Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS) Web site.  There are many tools and resources of value to both high school and higher ed faculty. The Chemical Safety in the Classroom page provides a video on the use of proper eye protection that is suitable for a science department meeting or use in the classroom. There are many other valuable resources including a List of Hazardous Chemicals that HS Teachers May Want to Rid from their Prep Lab and even PDF and WORD versions of a Secondary School Student Safety Contract

Check out our first Post in the Cautious Chemist Corner. Dr. Robert Hill and Dr. Harry Elston of the Committee on Chemical Safety respond to questions that I had over a conversation in a workshop that I recently attended.

Join the conversation.

All comments must abide by the ChemEd X Comment Policy, are subject to review, and may be edited. Please allow one business day for your comment to be posted, if it is accepted.

Comments 2

Bob Worley's picture
Bob Worley | Tue, 07/15/2014 - 09:39



I am the retired (hah) safety advisor for CLEAPSS back in the UK. I would like to agree with the sensible advice from your colleague, Dr. Harry Elston about the safety of your experiment. Yes we have incidents too. I call them incidents because they are never accidents for it nearly always comes down to the person carrying out the activity and very rarely the chemicals. That is because a risk assessment would have highlighted the problem caused by the chemicals AND THEIR PRODUCTS but a risk assessment should always take in account the knowledge and technical ability of the person involved, the experience of the students and room the activity is carried out in. The chemical risk assessment can only be carried out by experienced chemists who know what can go wrong. The control measures you employ through the risk assessment then make the experiment safe to be carried out.

So in UK terms I think you could be storing far too much sodium hydroxide. Have a look at solid. If they are individual pellets, then well done on your storage. If they are glistening then they are absorbing water- that top is not secure enough. If there is a caked mass then you have a considerable amount of sodium carbonate there. We have found the plastic containers do split. Also applies to calcium oxide.

I would like to thank you for that paper on expiry dates. We have had our problems there as well

Oh but that name; “cautious” chemist. It is really the careful and sensible chemistry teacher. 

Well I am venturing into the USA for the first time ever and coming to BCCE2014 so if you are there you can hunt me out but my microscale workshop W57 is full (20) at the moment. (I can take four in the audience though as room limit is 24). Rather scared but we all speak a common language in the end, chemistry. 

Deanna Cullen's picture
Deanna Cullen | Tue, 07/15/2014 - 11:29

Hi Bob! Good to hear from you. I appreciate your added comments. Good points. I hope to see you again at BCCE! Safe travels across the pond.