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 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, English

The basis for most health and safety legislation in the UK is risk assessment. Most of the legislation applies to all school activities, not just practical chemistry. The approach to controlling the potential risks from practical chemistry teaching is just the same in principle as that which should be taken to control any other type of risk in schools. All that is required to teach practical chemistry safely is to look at the way in which chemicals are used and to consider how to control the exposure of pupils [and teachers] so that any risks to health are acceptably low. There may be concern that the risk is not reduced to zero. However pupils are exposed to higher risks in many other school activities, e.g. sports, technology, and indeed when crossing the road to get to and from school. These have clearly been judged ‘acceptable’even though they are not zero. It is not difficult to control chemical risk and there is plenty of guidance available to help. Information on the hazards likely to be found in school chemistry laboratories is given in the data sheets published by CLEAPSS [the Consortium of Local Education Authorities for the Provision of Science Services]. Publications like the RSC’s “COSHH in Laboratories” and the more recent HSE guidance “COSHH Essentials” explain the principles involved and give practical advice on managing potential ‘health risks’from chemicals [in effect poisoning in the school context]. Other types of risk, such as burns, also need to be considered. Publications from the ASE [Association for Science Education] and the Department for Education and Skills [DfES], for example, give detailed advice tailored to the specific needs of schools.

Level of Education: Preschool, School

Lead Organisation: Working Party of the Environment, Health and Safety Committee [EHSC] of the Royal Society of Chemistry

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