As we all know, research and general educational practice clearly indicates that students learn science best by doing it – not just reading about it. Hands-on, process and inquiry based science is the key to understanding science. Unfortunately, this is a double edged sword for science teachers in that doing science has its potential hazards and resulting risks. Science laboratories, classrooms and field work sites can be unsafe places to teach and learn. If a student gets hurt while doing an activity in the lab, in the field or even at home if it was a teacher’s assignment, there is potential shared liability for both the teacher and the school.
CLEAPSS is a subscription service, but our YouTube Channnel is an open source. The videos are designed for teachers and technicians in schools. They may just give you ideas. I have just put one up about electrostatics and the effect of magnets on water and oxygen. In a couple of weeks I hope to have a sequel showing the effect of magnets on precipitates and complexes.
(A look at workplace exposure limits found in MSDS sheets)
There is useful information in section 8 of a (Material) Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) that teachers can use and shows how a knowledge of chemical equations and calculations helps protect the health of their students and themselves and helps to assure their employers and safety officers that teachers and lecturers are responsible and professional users of chemicals.
Whenever a serious incident takes place in a school chemistry laboratory or classroom, fire and safety officers often pontificate on the incident by quoting the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). However, how many of you have read such documents in full? In UK schools we have perhaps 200 to 400 chemicals on the shelves. Have you read the MSDSs for each chemical?
I recently spoke by email with Bob Worley as he prepared an article, But Surely That’s Banned, sharing some thoughts on chemical safety for teachers from his UK perspective. Part of the discussion revolved around our shared concern for using methanol for demonstrations. The Fire Tornado demonstration, that was part of the September 2014 Nevada museum incident, can easily be found in written form and video in a quick Google search.
The Royal Society of Chemistry became increasingly frustrated in 2004 when academics (the “when I was a lad” variety”), National Tabloids (it’s “‘elf un safety gone mad” variety), and many teachers were quoting health & safety fears as the reasons not to do practical science work and demonstrations.
Statement from the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety regarding the “Tornado Experiment” Explosion in a Science Museum in Reno, Nevada
Another chemistry demonstration accident has happened. This one was at a museum in Nevada. In preliminary reports, it looks as if several children were injured. One child was held overnight in the hospital.
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.
I was at a chemistry teacher workshop recently and we participated in a common Hess’s Law laboratory. Part of the procedure required us to measure about 2 grams of solid NaOH and add it to 100 mL of 0.5 M HCl. We also added 50 mL of 1 M NaOH solution to 50 mL of 0.5 M HCl solution. We then compared the energy change of both containers.