Excellent point. Before we engage in a wider campaign to spread the message on this topic, we not only need to clearly outline the problem, we need to provide the solution (besides "Bad - don't do it"). Otherwise, as discussed in several posts, we open the door to multiple divergent and/or conflicting solutions that will detract from and dilute the message.
And nothing makes a more compelling investigative-style news feature than a "here's a problem and an easy solution, why hasn't this been done" story. It gives something parents and administrators to easily rally around, too.
Let's identify the best current sources of lab demonstration safety. There are lots of resources - Shakhashiri's books, Lab Safety Institute, various university outreach programs, ACS and more. For the most part we have to find documents that are readily available on the web - a K-12 instructor is unlikely to have access to Shakhashiri or NFPA 45. Ideally such sources would also discuss the basic hierarchy/protocol for reducing risk: 1) substitution, 2) engineering controls, 3) administrative controls, 4) PPE. Some examples:
Then let's condense this to a simple summary web page listing the available resources (including those above and the more detailed SOP idea that Ralph describes) as well as a quick safety checklist hitting the most critical issues - flammability, toxicity etc. For example, if your demonstration has X then Y (bullet point list). So for the Rainbow, the user would see Flammable, and under that would be a list of recommendations such as limit solvents, check for alternatives, etc. etc. And something in there about the dozens of accidents. Maybe a list of demos that should never be done. If I get a chance this week I'll mock something up and post it for comment.
A final aspect of this would be ensuring that such a page comes up on the first page of Google for searches on chemistry demos. This could be achieved with our own campaign to get the page linked to from every chemistry and EHS department. As official university web pages are generally considered "respected authorities" in most search engine ranking algorithms this alone should do it. And it has to be properly titled. I'd say "Best practices for laboratory demonstrations" or something along those lines.
PS: Long term, the ultimate solution is an ACS-sponsored demonstration clearinghouse of some kind. A dedicated site that lists all the demos an instructor would ever want to do, and includes all of the safety protocols/parameters required. If a safety issue arose, it would be noted and workarounds instituted. It would also have some kind of community input - comments, a ranking system etc. But that would take an ongoing commitment, full-time curation and some tremendous effort. I don't see it happening any time soon, if ever.
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With regard to the methanol demonstration question, I think that the new NFPA 45 standard gives a pretty good basis for planning chemical demonstration safety; perhaps a contribution that ACS could make would be to develop a model document that outlines the basic information for these requirements with regard to work with methanol. These instructor responsibilities include:
- A documented hazard risk assessment
- A safety briefing for students
- PPE for both faculty and students
- Safety barriers as required
- An instructor that is trained and knowledgeable in fire safety procedures, emergency plans, hazards present
Such a document should be clear that it is a template that needs to be modified to meet local requirements, but might provide a basis for teachers who develop plans for such demonstrations via google to identify the best practices to include…
Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Chemical Hygiene Officer
Keene State College
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