Over the last 15 years, more and more students in science classrooms and other laboratory settings across the United States have been getting injured when accidents occur during science demonstrations. While students being injured due to lab fires are not new, a number of high-profile incidents in recent years have brought a new awareness to the problem.
In addition to suffering second- and third-degree burns on their faces and upper bodies, they are often faced with long-lasting emotional scars.
Each of these incidents could have been prevented. With that goal in mind, changes to the latest edition of NFPA 45, Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals, were made with the idea of eliminating these hazards from classwrooms and other laboratory settings. These changes were published in November 2014.
The new requirements in Chapter 12 of NFPA 45 are retroactive to all schools and apply to the performance of science demonstrations using hazardous materials. The requirements include instructor responsibilities, chemical handling and storage requirements, and controls for the performance of demonstrations. The requirements below are similar to the requirements that the CSB recommended last October.
It is widely understood that many school districts around the country operate with very limited budgets and cannot afford to buy new equipment for their labs and provide the necessary training for their teachers. While it is important to acknowledge those limitations, we cannot afford to burn any more students in science demonstrations. These accidents are preventable. There are many organizations that provide low-cost training materials and safety programs for school science programs, including the Laboratory Safety Institute (LSI), an international nonprofit education organization for laboratory safety that provides low-cost laboratory safety training and reference materials for schools. The Laboratories Using Chemicals committee has worked with the LSI to review the new requirements to NFPA 45.
The new requirements in NFPA 45 will only be effective if the standard is adopted by the state and local fire departments. If NFPA 45 is not adopted in its entirety, at a minimum the operational requirements in Chapters 6, 11, and 12 of NFPA 45 need to be adopted to provide safe practices in all laboratories, especially for K–12 magic shows, demonstrations, and laboratory activities. After adopting NFPA 45, the fire marshals, fire inspectors, and science teachers need to be trained on the new requirements to improve the safety of laboratory demonstrations.
By working together to implement these safety controls, we will be able to protect our students from being seriously injured in the event of an accident involving flammable liquids or hazardous chemicals. There is no reason for students to be burned while watching science demonstrations.