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Protecting Students From Fires

In 2015, the National Fire Protection Association released a revised version of NFPA 45 that included a new chapter titled “Educational and Instructional Laboratory Operations,” which applies to K–12 school laboratories. The new chapter provides fire protection and safety requirements for new and existing educational laboratories doing experiments or demonstrations using hazardous materials.

Most state legislatures will eventually adopt the updated NFPA 45 standard, meaning it is or will become a legal safety standard that school administration and teachers must follow

The Specifics

The first section (12.2: “Instructor Responsibilities”) of the new chapter clearly states that in a demonstration or experiment using hazardous materials, the teacher is required to:

• perform a documented hazard risk assessment,

• provide a safety review to students,

• provide adequate personal protective equipment, and

• place a safety barrier between students and the demonstration or experiment to prevent personal injury.

Furthermore, this section states that laboratory teachers must be trained and knowledgeable in fire safety procedures, emergency plans, lab hazards, appropriate PPE, and conducting an appropriate hazard risk assessment.

The second section (12.3 “Chemical Storage and Handling”) directs teachers to store bulk quantities of chemicals in locked rooms outside the classroom or store portioned amounts for each class session in a locked cabinet inside the lab. The second section also includes the following guidelines:

• Quantities of chemicals should not exceed the pre-laboratory unit quantities specified in local fire or building codes.

• Bulk quantities of chemicals in a prep room should be dispensed outside of the classroom or lab.

• If the lab does not have a prep room, the quantities of chemicals must be kept in locked cabinets before students arrive in the classroom or lab.

• The minimum amount of chemicals needed must be transferred to a smaller, appropriately labeled bottle.

Section 12.3.2 (“Performance of Experiments or Demonstrations”) again requires specific actions on the part of the teacher. For instance:

• Experiments or demonstrations must be performed in a location with access to an exit.

• Experiments or demonstrations involving hazardous quantities of fumes, vapors, particulates, or gases must be operated within a chemical fume hood.

• If it’s not possible to perform the activity in a fume hood, it must be performed behind an impact-resistant plastic or tempered glass safety shield.

• If the activity is performed outside of a fume hood where a shield is not used, students must observe the activity from at least 3 m (10 ft.) away.

• Activities using flammable liquids and open flames must be performed by a knowledgeable instructor.

• Teachers must review the hazards with students, required PPE, and review of emergency procedures.

In the end

NFPA 45 (2015) provides clear direction for science teachers to conduct safer demonstrations or experiments with students. The standard does not, however, prohibit the use of flammable solvents in school laboratories.

Submit questions regarding safety in K–12 to Ken Roy at safesci@sbcglobal.net, or leave him a comment below. Follow Ken Roy on Twitter: @drroysafersci.

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