From: McGrath Edward J <Edward.McGrath**At_Symbol_Here**REDCLAY.K12.DE.US>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Systemic safety problems?
Date: Mon, 2 May 2016 16:51:36 +0000
Reply-To: DCHAS-L <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU>
Message-ID: BLUPR0301MB15701E748D6B5F8D9918255796790**At_Symbol_Here**

Hi David


Thank you for your thoughtful response.  It spells out much of what I want my teachers and administrators to be doing as they plan science investigations and demonstrations.


Regarding the "Rainbow Demo," there are indeed learning objectives that are relevant and important for students to meet regarding characteristic colors that are generated as electrons in various atoms are energized.  Spelling out student learning objectives and assessment is where the safety plan starts.


From that point, we look at the various ways to meet those objectives.  Besides the Rainbow Demonstration, you mentioned flame tests (which can be done without the use of methanol) and spectrum tubes.  Each of these methods can be used to meet the objectives in different ways.


The next thing to do is a hazard analysis and risk assessment of each procedure.  We tell the teachers they need to identify the potential harm to persons, property, or environment.  Then, they need to determine (for each hazard) the probability that harm will occur, the severity of the harm, and the exposure that will occur in the activity.  Finally (and here's where things often break down), teachers need to spell out what safety controls will be needed:  engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment.


One of the reasons I tend to be over-cautious (or to quote some of our administrators, "go overboard with safety") is that while it is possible to carry out some of these demos without an adverse incident, the necessary precautions are often not followed or not feasible.  Using the rainbow demo or woosh bottle as an example:  are students sufficiently far away to warrant the demos?  Is there adequate shielding?  Is the room correctly ventilated?   And, if things go other than planned, how will the teacher respond?  These questions and many others are ideally discussed with the Chemical Hygiene Officer.


The problem that occurs in so many K-12 schools is exactly what you might think.  Many schools or school districts have no Chemical Hygiene Officer.  Therefore, absent a designated CHO, the role is assumed by the building principal or superintendent (who probably knows nothing about these issues).  In looking at the schools themselves:  are there fume hoods?  Are these fume hoods functional and being used/inspected correctly?  Is there enough space for students to perform the desired investigations?  Are  class sizes small enough to warrant these investigations or demonstrations?  Is there a safety shield?  A fire extinguisher?  Etc, etc,etc.


I've left out many of the questions I ask (we're all busy), but ultimately, if the answer to any of these questions is "no," I have to ask if the teacher is looking into an alternative activity to the more hazardous one?  Or is the teacher saying, "I'll just be REALLY CAREFUL."  If you hear the second response, it's fair to say, you've identified a "systemic problem."


I guess where I've been going (and thank you for reading this far!) is that if we're teaching science at any level to prepare students for the demands of the 21st century, including safety culture in that instruction means making some unpopular decisions in the interest of protecting persons, property, and the environment.  When it comes to safety, a systemic problem demands a systemic solution.


Eddie McGrath


Edward J. McGrath

Supervisor of Science

Red Clay Consolidated School District

1502 Spruce Avenue

Wilmington DE  19805


(302) 552-3768


We did not inherit the Earth from our ancestors.  We borrowed it from our children.



From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**] On Behalf Of DAVID Katz
Sent: Sunday, May 01, 2016 2:03 PM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Systemic safety problems?


Hi Eddie,


While I believe that your objective in asking teachers the learning objectives of their demonstration is a positive step, the possible restricting of what are being called "hazardous" demonstrations can be problematic.   

The rainbow demonstration shows the colors produced by different chemical elements.  There is definite merit to this demonstration.  Remember flame tests?  How about identifying elements in distant stars?  Even an explanation for colors in fireworks?  The problem is not the demonstration.  The problem is untrained demonstrators who do not properly prepare for their demonstrations.  Any fool who brings large containers of flammable liquids, acids or bases, or any potentially hazardous materials into their demonstration presentation, when only a small quantity of that substance is required, is asking for trouble and opening themselves and their institution to legal liability.  While the rainbow demonstration does show several of the flame colors at the same time, I prefer to use an alternative method for showing flame colors one at a time.  By the way, the rainbow demonstration incident at the Douglas County School was settled for $1.5 million. In my opinion, the school got off cheap.

There are define teaching goals you can show with the Whoosh Bottle demo.   For a proper Whoosh Bottle demo see  and   There is also the Whoosh Bottle Trio which shows the effect of concentration   Flinn Scientific also has information on National Standards at  That said, I personally prefer alternative demonstrations and activities.

Chemical demonstrations should make chemical phenomena visible, not be a collection of fire, smoke and explosions.  For example, a hydrogen filled balloon shows the flammability of hydrogen.  Repeat that demonstration with a test tube filled with essentially pure hydrogen in low light.  The audience can see hydrogen burning in a more controlled environment and the condensed water on the inside of the test tube.  The second of these two is the true teaching moment.

Unfortunately, there is no current national program that teaches chemical demonstrations and proper demonstration techniques.


  David A. Katz             
  Chemist, Educator, Expert Demonstrator, Science Communicator, and  Consultant
  Programs and workshops for teachers, schools, museums, and the public
  133 N. Desert Stream Dr. * Tucson, AZ 85745-2277 *  USA
  voice/fax: (520) 624-2207 * email: dakatz45**At_Symbol_Here**
           Visit my web site:

----- Original Message -----

From: McGrath Edward J


Sent: Saturday, April 30, 2016 6:04 PM

Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Systemic safety problems?


In June, I will be delivering an hour long presentation to teachers and administrators in Delaware  (K-12 public  and charter schools ) on what they should know about science and safety.   One theme I hope to drive home is that a culture of safety doesn't just happen :  it must be planned, like any other aspect of good instruction.   One question I would like to ask any teacher contemplating a rainbow demo, a woosh  bottle experiment,  or other lab/demo where hazardous incidents have resulted in injury:


What we're the learning objectives of this lesson?   How is student learning assessed?


If these questions can't be answered, there's a good chance that the lesson also suffers from being unnecessarily hazardous. 


I ask my teachers to include a hazard analysis /risk assessment  and specific safety precautions into their lesson plans.   It's amazing how much more safety conscious they become when they see these things written in their own hand.  Even better,  when I hear a student tell another, "hey, move that chair!  It's blocking the eyewash!"


Eddie McGrath

Red Clay Consolidated School District 

Wilmington Delaware 




Sent from my Galaxy Tab=AE A



-------- Original message --------

From: "Robin M. Izzo" <rmizzo**At_Symbol_Here**PRINCETON.EDU>

Date: 04/29/2016 1:21 PM (GMT-05:00)


Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Systemic safety problems?


I couldn't agree more, Pete and Bob.. 


I would add three more things:

=B7         PIs, chairs, supervisors, etc. who do not make it clear that safety is a priority and needs to be part of the scientific method.

=B7         Lack of training/mentorship for PIs and lab supervisors regarding how to run a lab, especially amid the many other issues that they face - publishing demand, teaching, grant writing, etc.

=B7         Training and education that does not always include strategies to bring up safety concerns.  Many people, even PIs watching their students, are not comfortable confronting people, making waves, asking questions that they think they should already have the answer, etc.

That's all about safety culture, too.






Robin M. Izzo


Environmental Health and Safety
Princeton University

609-258-6259 (office)

Visit the EHS website at



From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] On Behalf Of roberth_hill
Sent: Friday, April 29, 2016 11:32 AM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Systemic safety problems?


Noticed that too. Besides your points is my continued observations that these incidents occur because safety education is missing from the curriculum. This results in TWO things: lack of knowledge about safety AND a missing or weak safety ethic. The latter comes from continuous safety education over the entire learning process.  So if safety education is missing so is the strong safety ethic.

Bob Hill




Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

-------- Original message --------
From: "Reinhardt, Peter" <peter.reinhardt**At_Symbol_Here**YALE.EDU>
Date: 04/28/2016 4:24 PM (GMT-05:00)
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Systemic safety problems?



The following C&E News quote surprised me. I wonder what you think:


"The independent investigation into the March 16, 2016 explosion in a University of Hawai'i at M=E2noa laboratory is now expected to be complete in mid to late May…The University of California Center for Laboratory Safety, retained by UH to conduct the investigation…In its preliminary investigation, the UC Center for Laboratory Safety, considered a national leader in laboratory safety, determined that the explosion was an isolated incident and not the result of a systemic problem."


I am not sure how the UC Center for Laboratory Safety defines a "systemic problem," and perhaps I don't know pertinent details of this awful, tragic accident, but I keep pondering the following questions, which allude to systemic safety problems (as I would define them) all too common in academic institutions:


=B7       Was a hazard analysis done prior to the experiments? Does the University of Hawai'i integrate hazard analysis into its research process?

=B7       When so many different hazards exist in each research laboratory, how can students and post docs (still in the early phases of their professional development) gain the requisite knowledge and skills to recognize and understand the specific risks associated with their work?

=B7       Was there an anonymous, nonpunitive incident and near-miss reporting system? (I realized that, had the person reported the near-miss that preceded the accident, it would have been easy to identify that person.)

=B7       What can be done about the dependence of students and postdocs on the principal investigator for their professional advancement, and the way this relationship's power differential affects the willingness of students and post docs to raise safety concerns?


Some of the above wording is verbatim from the National Academies "Safe Science: Promoting a Culture of Safety in Academic Chemical Research" ( If these systemic problems existed at the University of Hawai'i, I do hope that UC Center for Laboratory Safety shares their findings and recommendations. It would help me and others improve our safety programs.




Peter A. Reinhardt

Director, Office of Environmental Health & Safety

Yale University

135 College St., Suite 100

New Haven, CT   06510-2411

(203) 737-2123



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