"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Laboratory Safety

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As part of my life involves forensic investigation, and I’ve always been fascinated with accidents, causes and uncovering the truth in the aftermath, I follow the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB). The CSB investigates anytime there is an accident involving chemical work – and their work is very well-done. As a part of their mandate they often put together safety videos talking about avoiding disaster.  My background with explosives has left me with a great appreciation for safety and the importance of protective equipment (losing some of my hearing because of inadequate ear protection around jet engines helped too).

This recent investigation caught my eye, as my daughter is presently studying chemistry. We’ve had talks about lab safety, but ultimately I have to trust in the professionals that are serving as her educators and mentors.  Part of my discussion with her is to emphasize to never be embarrassed to wear protective equipment, even if no one else is doing it.  Anytime there is heat involved, or mixing of reactants, there is a need for some form of eye protection.  If a demonstration, the use of a shield can substitute.

I was delighted when she described how she was the only one using gloves to handle a caustic compound, and once her labmates saw she was wearing them, everyone followed suit.

This brings up some not-so-fond personal memories, as I had a close encounter with ethanol as a teen – entirely because I was screwing around with something I had no business messing with.  If it wasn’t for my friend Troy pulling me out of the fire and putting out the flames on my face, I could have been in that burn ward along with Calais in the video.

My email news feed from the CSB gave me this notice:

High School Laboratory Fire in New York City

I was distressed to learn once again of a serious high school laboratory accident, this one occurring yesterday at a New York City High School. According to media reports, a flash fire occurred during a demonstration in the high school‘s laboratory resulting in injuries to two 10th grade students, one severely. […]

Though information at this stage is very preliminary, media reports indicate the accident that occurred yesterday in Manhattan may have been similar to the type of demonstration that critically injured Ms. Weber in that it attempted to show how chemicals react in different ways giving off different colors. . The demonstration in the CSB video showed the use of highly flammable methanol to depict how various mineral salts produce different color flames when burned.

The CSB believes that accidents in high school laboratories occur with alarming frequency. Yesterday’s incident is yet another example of a preventable incident and a reminder of the need for exacting safety measures to protect students and school property. As Calais states in the safety message, her accident should never have occurred, and that with better attention to good safety practices, similar accidents can also be avoided. She says, “It feels with this type of injury that you’ve had so much taken away from you unnecessarily and to keep reading about other people who have had very similar experiences, it’s tragic and shouldn’t happen.”

The notice referred you to a troubling video, featuring a young woman who was badly burned during a science demonstration. The demo is a common one, burning mineral salts to demonstrate different colours created as the compounds are heated. When this demo was done at my daughter’s high school, it was done over a gas burner.

In the incident, the teacher was using dishes of methanol to heat each compound. When one of the dishes started to sputter, the teacher picked up a jug of methanol and attempted to pour added fuel into the one dish. What resulted was a flash fire and explosion.

The video is painful to watch.


Written by sameo416

January 3, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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