Author(s): Manny Ehrlich. Published on September 1, 2015.

In 2014, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) issued a safety bulletin entitled “Key Lessons for Preventing Incidents from Flammable Chemicals in Educational Demonstrations.

The bulletin was issued in the wake of several serious methanol accidents that injured children and adults, incidents similar to those that the CSB has identified where laboratory demonstrations involving flammable materials have resulted in fires and injuries.

The CSB’s bulletin advises the following precautions for performing these kinds of demonstrations safely:

» Do not use bulk containers of flammable materials during demonstrations when small quantities are sufficient;

» Employers should implement strict safety controls when demonstrations necessitate handling hazardous chemicals, including written procedures, effective training, and the required use of appropriate personal protective equipment for all participants;

» Conduct a comprehensive hazard review prior to performing any educational demonstration;

» Provide a safety barrier between the demonstration and the audience.

These key lessons, if followed, will prevent future injuries. Educators should substitute or minimize the use of flammable chemicals and perform an effective hazard review prior to conducting an educational demonstration. Safety must be the absolute priority and educators should demonstrate chemical safety concepts along with the scientific topic.

Manny Ehrlich is a past member of NFPA's Technical Committee on Hazardous Materials Response Personnel.