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Health and safety

Health and safety advice for teaching practical chemistry in the UK.
Chemistry is often perceived as having greater risks than the other sciences. Although with good practise and planning, these risks can be minimised. It’s very important that schools take advice of local and national regulations. In the United Kingdom, CLEAPSS provide advice for Wales, England and Northern Ireland and SSERC provide advice for Scotland. In other countries, you should seek out suitable guidance. When planning practical work, it’s important to consider not just the doing phase of the practical, but also how you prepare the practical and actually how you clean up afterwards. Good health and safety is about minimising the risk.
So we can do that often in chemistry by reducing the concentrations of solutions, by reducing the volumes of materials that we use, and also by making experiments smaller. And in this series of activities, we’re going to look at ways of actually putting this into practise. It’s very important that students take active responsibility in health and safety as well. And that means communicating to them why they’re doing things in certain ways. After all, at some point we hopefully will have them going into workplaces where they will have to take a greater responsibility for their own health and safety.
So ways of reducing the risk, such as reducing the concentration of solutions, can then have a knock on effect on how we take safety. So if you’re using sodium hydroxide at a one molar solution, then you’re going to need to use indirect vented goggles, which are splash proof. However, if you reduce the concentration to below 0.4 formulas, such as 0.1 molar solution, then ordinary safety glasses are perfectly fine to use. The general rule is if it’s marked as corrosive or toxic, you need to wear the proper splash proof goggles. We can also then potentially take dropping bottles of solutions and would reduce the quantities.
And maybe make individual sets of students, which can also minimise the risk because they’re not walking around the room carrying large amounts of reagent. We can also give them smaller quantities, and instead of ordinary metal spatulas, give them small wooden splints to use to handle much smaller quantities. So students are not tempted to use as much. We can also reduce the scale of experiments. So for example, instead of going for test tube size, we can reduce it down to a dimple tray size. Not only does that reduce the amount that’s used, it reduces the chance of damage from spillage. It minimises waste.
And one of the things we want students to appreciate is that minimising the waste is very important for any of the chemical processes and industry. Good health and safety involves planning at every stage and recording any significant outcomes that you have. So if you do something, then you must record it. It’s very important that students take ownership of their health and safety as well.
School science has a good safety record, however teachers must not become complacent. It is very important that lessons are planned well. Effective health and safety considerations are an integral part of any practical lesson.
Chemistry is often considered to have a higher level of risk than other sciences, however, with thought, the risks can be minimised. Choosing the right practical to use is important, but there are other considerations which can help make a practical safer, easier and often cheaper. Encourage students to also identify potential hazards and assess any risks, indicating how to minimise risks at all times.
Good practice often can be summed up as scale, concentration and organisation of the activity. This idea is introduced in the video above, but for a more in-depth look we’ve provided some examples:

Health and safety advice

Most schools and countries have safety policies that should be followed carefully. In the UK, for England, Wales and Northern Ireland, CLEAPSS and for Scotland SSERC should be consulted for advice. Both organisations have comprehensive advice available to their members and also can provide bespoke support. If you are based anywhere else please ensure you check with your local health and safety regulator.
Also, the Royal Society of Chemistry has a huge wealth of material available, much of which is available in the STEM Resources eLibrary from the National STEM Learning Centre.
You should always carry out risk assessments for each practical activity you undertake with a class and record any significant findings. These can often be adapted from existing risk assessments. If you have any questions about this please add them below, but remember we won’t be able to give you specific guidance, only point you in the right direction.
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Teaching Practical Science: Chemistry

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