Safe Practices During Classroom Science Demonstrations

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The U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released a safety message reminding teachers, staff, and school administrators about the hazards of using flammable materials, such as methanol, during classroom science demonstrations.

The newly released safety message features CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland and Board Member Kristen Kulinowski, who both emphasize the importance of recognizing hazards prior to including such demonstrations in curriculums.

Educational demonstrations involving flammable materials are often performed at schools or museums to engage students and visitors by stimulating their interest in science. These demonstrations typically use methanol or other flammable liquids as a fuel for combustion.

In response to three separate incidents that injured children and adults over an eight–week period in 2014, the CSB issued a safety bulletin titled, “Key Lessons for Preventing Incidents from Flammable Chemicals in Educational Demonstrations.”

The “Key Lessons” intended to ensure the safety of everyone in the classroom. These lessons include the elimination of bulk chemical containers during such demonstrations as well as the use of a safety barrier between the demonstration and the audience.

In the safety message Board Member Kulinowski emphasized that, “Demonstrators should prepare by asking themselves, ‘What could possibly go wrong here?’ and ‘Is the benefit worth the risk?’”

The CSB is releasing this short safety message along with a one-page summary of the hazards of such demonstrations. CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland said, “Our children and teachers need to make safety first, especially when conducting science experiments and demonstrations.  Our alert is a lesson plan in safety.”