Chemical Safety and Back to School

Every year around this time a feeling of nostalgia gets me. As soon as the first sign about “back to school” shows up in a store or on TV, I am transported to my previous life. For over 10 years I taught high school science. Each year there were plans to make, supplies to buy, and students to meet. Thinking on it now from the perspective of a safety professional, it is amazing the chemical hazards present in an everyday school situation.

Being a science teacher it was easy to engage students in their own learning. Usually, all it took was setting up some demonstrations of some basic chemical reactions and everyone was read to go. A few of the more common ones were called Colored Fire, Sugar Snake, and Elephant’s Toothpaste. In each one of these, hazardous chemicals are used to make the reaction. For the Colored Fire, alcohol solutions of various metals are used. The Sugar Snake involves the use of concentrated sulfuric acid. In Elephant’s toothpaste a hydrogen peroxide solution is used. As a teacher you always had to model good safety habits including the proper personal protective equipment and keep students far enough away for the actual demonstration to be safe.

Colored Fire

Sugar Snake

Elephant’s Toothpaste

Elsewhere in the school building there were other hazardous chemicals. Consider the toner in the copy room. Also, the Custodial department uses strong chemicals on a daily basis to keep things clean. Throughout the year, the grounds crew handles hazardous chemicals so the campus will look good and be safe. For many schools there is also the garage and maintenance areas where buses are serviced which can involve hazardous materials. All of these locations must be made aware of the chemicals being handled and how to do so safely.

It begs the question – Are schools aware of HazCom 2012? Have the staff and faculty been trained to recognize the wider range of hazards? Have the locations that deal with hazardous materials been updated with more current safety data sheets. In doing some research on my own, I found organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association and the Chemical Safety Board have released various messages calling attention to the new regulation and offering resources to help with safety inside the school setting.

While the school systems juggle so many things at the start of a school year, the safety of their teachers, faculty and most importantly students should never be compromised. Be sure to contact ICC Compliance Center for the best options for labeling the hazardous chemicals in your school.

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