CSB Urges Schools to Use Safe Practices during Science Demonstrations

Published September 6, 2017

​A back-to-school safety message published yesterday by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) emphasizes the importance of recognizing the hazards of certain classroom science demonstrations prior to including such demonstrations in curriculums. CSB urges teachers, staff, and school administrators to be especially aware of the hazards of using flammable materials like methanol during these demonstrations. Examples of educational demonstrations that have injured children and adults in recent years include the “fire tornado” science demonstration, where boric acid is burned in the presence of a methanol-soaked cotton ball, and the “rainbow” experiment, which uses highly flammable methanol and is meant to show how various mineral salts produce different colored flames when burned.

CSB warns schools and other places of education against using bulk containers of flammable chemicals in educational demonstrations when small quantities are sufficient. When demonstrations necessitate handling hazardous chemicals, users should implement strict safety controls such as written procedures, effective training, and the required use of appropriate personal protective equipment for all participants. According to CSB, schools should conduct a comprehensive hazard review prior to performing any educational demonstration. It’s also important to provide a safety barrier between the demonstration and audience.

“Our children and teachers need to make safety first, especially when conducting science experiments and demonstrations,” said CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland. “It is our hope that our lessons will be more widely adopted so that during this upcoming school year no one is injured during classroom demonstrations.”

More information is available in CSB’s 2014 report, “Key Lessons for Preventing Incidents from Flammable Chemicals in Educational Demonstrations” (PDF). A related video safety message focuses on potential dangers in high school chemistry laboratories. The video features an interview with an accident survivor who was burned over 40 percent of her body during a high school chemistry demonstration in 2006.