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School science presentations and fire safety: CSB releases video

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Photo: Chemical Safety Board

Washington – A new video from the Chemical Safety Board reminds teachers, staff and school administrators of the hazards of using flammable materials such as methanol during classroom science demonstrations.

Released Sept. 5, the three-minute video features CSB Chairperson Vanessa A. Sutherland and board member Kristen Kulinowski cautioning about the dangers associated with chemical fires, citing three incidents that occurred in 2014 that resulted in fires and injuries.

The cases involved a demonstrator adding methanol from a bulk container to enhance or start a fire because the flame was either not visible or not robust enough. In each case, CSB identified gaps in training, hazard review and written procedures.

The video stresses key lessons detailed in a CSB safety bulletin released shortly after the incidents, including:

  • Don’t use bulk containers of flammable chemicals in educational demonstrations when small amounts are enough.
  • Use strict safety controls, including written procedures, effective training and mandatory use of appropriate personal protective equipment for all participants, when demonstrations call for the handling of hazardous chemicals.
  • Conduct a thorough hazard review before performing any educational presentation.
  • Provide a safety barrier between the demonstration and the audience.

“Demonstrators should prepare by asking themselves, ‘What could possibly go wrong here?’ and ‘Is the benefit worth the risk?’” Kulinowski said in the video.

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