Incorporating safety into the general chemistry curriculum

Incorporating safety into the general chemistry curriculum

RESEARCH ARTICLE Incorporating safety into the general chemistry curriculum Providing safety instruction is relatively easy, but having safety become...

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Incorporating safety into the general chemistry curriculum Providing safety instruction is relatively easy, but having safety become second nature to the student is very difficult. Over time laboratory safety has improved particularly in the general laboratory curriculum. However, having key elements and concepts of safety carry over into other aspects of the student’s environment and building a safety culture is still in development. One approach designed to augment current safety programs has been applied to the general laboratory curriculum. This approach incorporates a safety information ‘‘scavenger hunt’’ and introduction of a generalized hazard analysis. Use of these tools has shown that elements of a safety culture can be instilled with a minimum of disruption in the current program.

By Frankie Wood-Black


In 1968 Virginia Slims were introduced to the marketplace with the slogan – ‘‘You have come a long way, baby.’’ Of course the product being advertised, cigarettes, are in and of themselves a hazard; the sentiment of the advertising slogan is still as fresh today as it was when it was first introduced. We all have come a long way in terms of the evaluation of risks and hazards. Today, it is next to impossible to pick up a consumer product without some labeling. These labels indicate where you can get more information about the product. In many cases, the hazards are written in warning boxes (even when they are apparently obvious to the casual observer such as: Caution: the contents of this coffee cup may be hot.) Some may argue that we are so overloaded with warnings and cautions, that we now tune them out or ignore them completely. So, for as far as we have come, there is still a long way to go. We as instructors and chemical health and safety professionals are very concerned as to how people view safety. Frankie Wood-Black, Ph.D., REM, MBA, is affiliated with the Northern Oklahoma College, 1220 East Grand, Tonkawa, OK 74631, United States (Tel.: 580 762 1636; e-mail: [email protected] [email protected] [email protected]).


How is it taught? How do we get safety to become second nature? These are our challenges. Getting individuals to accept safety usually requires a culture change. Think for a moment, if you were born in the 60s and 70s, you can probably remember when you began to wear a seatbelt. Most of our students can’t remember a time without seatbelts. Another example is that of DDT or pesticides in general, for most of us; DDT conjures up negative examples of overuse. There was a time when DDT was the ideal solution. The list of positives versus negatives for a variety of potential hazards is long: propellants, flame retardants, asbestos, and fuel additives. Of course, key to evaluation and determination of a hazard is knowledge, information, and understanding of the potential consequences. As instructors, we have to provide our students with the skills to adequately make these assessments for their particular situations. We have to act as a parent and insist that every time we get in the car, we put on the seatbelt or every time we ride a bicycle we put on a helmet. It is through repetition, instruction and reenforcement that a safety culture is built. (There is one other way – but we hope that we don’t have to experience that route – a significant negative event that makes an impression.)


Starting with ‘‘We have come a long way, baby,’’ we have come a long way in terms of safety in the general

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chemistry laboratory. Thirty years ago, your laboratory safety briefing were reminders about being careful not to catch anything on fire and where the band-aids were if you happened to cut yourself on a broken glassware. The safety lecture focused on common sense items; making sure glassware was secure, fire hazards, and where to dispose of your waste product, in the context of the experiment being performed. Many of us used asbestos gloves to handle hot items. Looking at today’s general chemistry laboratory curriculum, you are likely to have a safety video, required safety equipment, instruction on how to use the safety equipment; and, while it may not be evident to the student, drastic changes in the laboratory activities themselves. The changes in the laboratory activities have included changes in the reagents used, the amount of the reagents, and even the types of equipment being used. Additionally, you are sure to see safety discussions as part of the written laboratory, i.e. the hazards associated with the particular chemicals being used, what types of safety equipment are required, and cautions or built in checks prior to next steps. While these changes are good, there is still something missing. How does the student learn to:  Obtain hazard information – if it is not readily provided in the laboratory  Evaluate potential hazards – if not readily provided in the laboratory or go beyond what is outlined in the laboratory


As instructors, we need to build these elements into our laboratory programs in such a way as to provide the repetition and re-enforcement of these concepts. This paper outlines one approach to provide this as part of the laboratory program and can be utilized for all chemistry or other science laboratories.


As part of the initial safety laboratory, a chemical information scavenger hunt has been included. As part of the program where this activity is used, the scavenger hunt is presented after general instruction about the Global Harmonization Standard chemical labeling and Safety Data Sheet (SDS) structure. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Quick Cards1 are provided as a handout to the students as well as posted in the laboratory. As part of the introduction to this take home activity, the labeling of baking soda is presented. A box of baking soda not only has chemical labeling, but also drug labeling and it is a good example different labeling requirements. The activity is designed to give the students experience in reviewing labels and safety information by using products that are common in their environments. This activity is structured so that the student must read the labeling on four different household products: a detergent for cleaning dishes, a toilet cleaner, a fabric softener, and a fertilizer (or garage type product). From the label, the students are to identify the product name, manufacturer, recommended/ suggested uses, warnings/cautions, and contact information. (The activity worksheet is provided in Appendix A.) The idea behind this part of the exercise is to get the students familiar with how products are labeled and where additional information can be found. Once the student has completed the label portion of the exercise, they are instructed to pick one of the four items and use the Internet obtain the SDS for 1 ghsquickcards.html.

that item. Using the SDS, the student is required to pull more detailed information. Thus, familiarizing the students with the form and elements of the SDS as well as the potential hazards associated with the product they have chosen. Students are asked to focus on signal words such as ‘‘caution’’ or ‘‘warning’’. They are asked to note the special protections and precautions as well as any dangers associated with mixing the product with other materials. The intended outcomes from these combined activity include:  Familiarization with labels  Familiarization with SDS including the structure and type of information presented  Introduction to obtaining chemical and safety information about products they may encounter


Upon completion of the information gathering step, the students are requested to complete a hazard analysis. The subject of the hazard analysis is the intended use of the product for which the student obtained the SDS. For example, if the student chose a window cleaner as the product to obtain the SDS and complete Step 2, the hazard analysis would be developed for washing windows with the product. (A hazard analysis sheet is provided as the last page of the worksheet for this activity.) The student is asked to include the product being used, the warnings and known hazards from personal experience as well as from the label and the SDS. While the introductory activity includes a number of lines for the materials to be used – the students are only asked to complete a single line for their chosen product. This same hazard analysis is used for each laboratory during the semester; thus, it is important that the students become familiar with this form. Once the hazards have been identified, the students are required to note the potential adverse reactions and bad outcomes. Having identified these, the students are asked to

Journal of Chemical Health & Safety, September/October 2014

complete the safety equipment section of the form. By using this form with a household product, the student is exposed to a more formal hazard analysis with a product they use on a regular basis. The students will be using this hazard analysis as part of each laboratory. Thus, over the course of the semester, the hazard analysis becomes part of the routine. DOES THE ACTIVITY WORK?

Over the course of the past year, this introductory activity was performed by over 200 students in general laboratory classes. The comments back from the student about the label and SDS review indicated that many were very surprised at the types of warnings that were present on the product. For many, there was expressed surprise about the amount and detail of the information provided on the Internet. Only in very few cases was a student unable to obtain information about a particular product. In those cases, it appeared to be the result of a product with an older label and the company had changed hands, with a bit of detective work information on these products was ultimately obtained. Over the course of the semester, students seemed more likely to ask questions about the materials they were using in the laboratory. There were more questions about the chemical name for common or trade name products. And, students were more likely to discuss and comment about the various uses of household materials. As part of the introductory activity, the hazard analysis does seem to cause some consternation among the students. For most, this is their first exposure to thinking through the potential ‘‘bad outcomes’’ in a formal fashion. They are a bit confused by the terminology as well as the differences associated with the source of information, i.e. the most common hazard is on the label, but there are additional hazards listed in the SDS. The general questions received from the students were associated with ‘‘did I complete this correctly’’ or ‘‘I am not sure what might go wrong, i.e. what is a ‘‘bad outcome’’? Even though bleach was used


as an example when introducing the hazard analysis, students were unfamiliar with how to address the ‘‘bad outcome’’ question. However, having completed a hazard analysis as part of this introductory exercise; when the hazard analysis discussion occurred with the first in-class laboratory where the hazard analysis was completed as a group as part of the laboratory introduction, the students were highly engaged. The hazard analysis form was completed as a group for the first two or three laboratories, and by the end of the semester students were completing the hazard analysis as part of the pre-laboratory activities on their own or as partners. Thus, it appeared during these trials that the hazard analysis became very familiar, anticipated and completed as a matter of course. CONCLUSIONS

Yes, ‘‘we have come a long way, baby.’’ Safety is now part of the laboratory instruction and is regularly incorporated into the individual laboratories. But,


we can’t stop there. As chemical health and safety professionals, we have to reenforce that safety is also an individual responsibility. The ultimate user of the chemical and/or equipment must be aware and familiar with the potential hazards. This scavenger hunt allows the student to explore the information that is at their fingertips, the label and the Internet. By reviewing this information, they are more informed about the potential hazards that are present. The incorporation of the hazard analysis from the use of a household product in an everyday activity provides the student with a new perspective on what they do without thinking. It introduces the ‘‘stop-and-think prior to acting’’ mentality that is necessary to prevent accidents. While initially this concept is foreign and causes some discomfort; the instruction, repetition and re-enforcement has this activity becoming second nature over the course of the semester. These two items appear to be one potential means of introducing and building a safety culture without much

effort. These activities aren’t add-ons; they are essential parts of the instruction. They do not require added time, nor do they require a modification of the curriculum. They slip in nicely as part of what you are already doing; the safety laboratory or introduction and the pre-laboratory discussion. The only difference here is one additional form is turned in as part of the laboratory. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to thank my children, Timothy and Audrey Black, who were the first ‘‘testers’’ of the chemical information scavenger hunt as part of their home school chemistry curriculum. Additionally, my students during this past year have been very good sports in testing the scavenger hunt as well as the hazard analysis form. These forms were tested as part of general chemistry, general physics and Earth science. Thus, the worksheet has been edited and revamped over time to incorporate the suggestions of the students as well as changes in the chemical information requirements.

Journal of Chemical Health & Safety, September/October 2014


Journal of Chemical Health & Safety, September/October 2014



Journal of Chemical Health & Safety, September/October 2014

Journal of Chemical Health & Safety, September/October 2014



Journal of Chemical Health & Safety, September/October 2014

Journal of Chemical Health & Safety, September/October 2014