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Author: Subject: The insanity that is OHS
j_sum1
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mad.gif posted on 10-12-2020 at 20:20
The insanity that is OHS


Apologies. This is a rant. Apparently reacting magnesium with vinegar is too dangerous for 17 year olds to be entrusted with unless they are wearing gloves, labcoat, goggles, face shield and have suitably qualified professionals (ie, not parents) supervising.

As many of you know, I work as a Chemistry teacher at a school of distance education. As such, organising for students to do experimental work (especially that which is meaningful) is a bit problematic. We do send out kits to the students for them to perform some experiments. And there are other work-arounds. But it does remain challenging.
As a Mandatory Practical in the state curriculum, students must react Mg with an acid and collect the gas produced. Also, as a compulsory part of their assessment, they must modify one of their Mandatory Practicals by selecting a variable to change, collecting some data and writing a report. As far as pracs go, my view is this is already a very watered down curriculum. But we follow the rules and accordingly have included in their kits a few cm of Mg ribbon, written up a risk assessment of the experiment using vinegar as the acid and have posted this out to students. Should be no problem.


Until just the other day.

In response to an anonymous tip off, we have had a surprise visit from government occupational health and safety officials to audit our processes.
Apparently, magnesium ribbon is classified as hazardous. We can make a case for sending it through the mail, but even then it is forbidden for students to handle. And the issue is appropriate PPE as well as trained supervision from qualified persons to ensure that students handle hazardous materials appropriately.

The same is true for calcium chloride. Presumably also copper sulfate (although that was not discussed.) Sodium hydroxide will also be off limits. Even sodium bicarbonate is deemed hazardous on some SDSs. (We we don't supply NaHCO3 to students: we expect them to raid the home pantry when it is needed.)

This is going to make it impossible for us to get students to do any experiments at all. We can't even do the ones that are prescribed by the education department: let alone anything interesting or engaging.

The school gets hauled over the coals and we are severely compromised in the service we can give to students. And teh only feasible way forward would seem to appeal to one state authority to over-rule the decisions of another. I can't see us getting much progress with that in any real hurry.

Until then, we won't be able to send out experiment kits that include any chemicals at all. Nor can we request that they use anything that might be deemed hazardous. That will rule out methylated spirits (which will prevent paper chromatography.) That will rule out anything that could be used for a precipitation experiment. That will rule out copper sulfate which will prevent electrolysis of copper experiments. This is just ridiculous.

And if the irony is not already apparent enough, I cannot see that any of these excessive restrictions will make the students safer to any appreciable degree.
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B(a)P
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[*] posted on 10-12-2020 at 20:31


No it will not make them safer.
Handling magnesium is certainly not the most risky thing a 17 year old will do, not by miles.
Sadly they will be less educated than their non-distant ed peers. They will also be more inclined to think chemistry is completely boring......
Terrible outcome, sorry to hear that jsum_1.
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[*] posted on 10-12-2020 at 20:49


Quote: Originally posted by B(a)P  
No it will not make them safer.
Handling magnesium is certainly not the most risky thing a 17 year old will do, not by miles.
Sadly they will be less educated than their non-distant ed peers. They will also be more inclined to think chemistry is completely boring......
Terrible outcome, sorry to hear that jsum_1.

Yeah. But it is worse than that. They will not be able to do the required elements of theor chem course and pass high school Chem unless we can find a work around.
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[*] posted on 10-12-2020 at 20:49


Wow, that's really insane. I actually used magnesium ribbon in a family experiment yesterday. The horror!

I do think the perception of chemistry as inherently dangerous in quite harmful to society. My friend actually just started an organization to try to combat this issue, I may try to put him in touch with you.
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[*] posted on 10-12-2020 at 21:37


That's hard to hear how much you are restricted in teaching chemistry in education. They would have a heart attack if you were teaching organic chemistry with all of the much more dangerous chemicals. There are pencil sharpeners made out of magnesium.

I think after a while much of chemistry education will be done in a virtual lab. No "scary" chemicals. No actual experience in handling chemicals, practicing lab techniques and chemical identification.

MidLifeChemist
The perception of chemistry as inherently dangerous in quite harmful to society. I completely agree.



[Edited on 11-12-2020 by symboom]




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[*] posted on 10-12-2020 at 22:04


My chemistry education (elementary school, highschool) was theory-based only, there were only a few things performed by the teacher - like burning magnesium or ph indicators presentation. That's the one of the things why people don't like chemistry. It's experimental science and without practice and seeing how the theory works in practice can be very, very boring - especially for young people.

I am waiting for the decision that people should stop breathing because oxygen is a hell strong oxidiser and thus is very dangerous:D
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[*] posted on 10-12-2020 at 22:23


We could crowd source it. I get volunteer leave from work. I would happily pay to travel to a couple of remote locations to do demonstrations. I have my background check to work with kids and have done University guest lectures so am vaguely qualified.

Edit - so we are clear, this is a genuine offer, I am sure there would be others.

[Edited on 11-12-2020 by B(a)P]
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 00:37


Are those people from occupational health and safety ever studied chemistry in their life? How could be they have no their own experience with chemical education, handling magnesium and calcium chloride. Probably the question is their qualification as chemists. It's seams they have no idea what they are doing at all in regard to their professional job.

Could be Mg and acetic acid be substituted with Cr and 10% HCl (a legit household item)?



[Edited on 11-12-2020 by teodor]
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 00:38


Things have changed so much over the last 40 years.

At high school, I did precipitation reactions with HgCl2 and KI to make the beautiful bright orange HgI2. We also did precipitation reactions with Pb(CH3COO)2 and KI. No demo, but we could do it ourselves. We were warned to be careful and to wash our hands after the experiments, but we could do it. We also had our own bunsen burner on the desk in the chemistry room and heated all kinds of things in test tubes. The most dangerous thing we did was experimenting with Br2 and alkenes vs. alkanes to see the speed of addition reactions, and the formation of HBr in substitution reactions. We had to put some alkene in a test tube (I think it was hexene) and some alkane (hexane). To this we had to add a single drop of Br2/CH2Cl2-mix, which came from a special dispenser, put in the front of the room. But nobody cared if we took a few more drops for added effect :P . The mix was quite concentrated though, you could easily smell the Br2 and see the brown/orange vapor. We nicely saw fumes of NH4Br coming from the alkane mix, when we kept a glass rod with some 10% ammonia nearby.

Nowadays things are very different. Pupils may not handle acids or bases at more than 0.1 M concentration. No common transition metals are allowed anymore in their own experiments, they may not handle any volatile organics. The most exciting thing they can do is a titration of a 0.001 M acid solution or so, with an indicator. Another thing they may do is add iodine solution (0.01 M or so in dilute KI) to starch. Demos also are watered down severely. Indeed, chemistry becomes an utterly boring subject with only water-like fluids to play with and dry theory.

[Edited on 11-12-20 by woelen]




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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 00:55


Thing is its much better to let kids suffer a minor injury from such simple chems, to act as a reminder as to why safety gear is a good idea when handling something a bit nastier.
Nothing teaches respect and caution like pain does.



[Edited on 11-12-2020 by Twospoons]




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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 01:03


Absolutely lunacy! I am sick of the Nanny State culture and the control freakery. The chemophobia.

Off topic but relevant, I watched a documentary recently, titled: "The Hidden Killers of the Post-War Home". Featured was the humble Chemistry Set. Shock, Gasp, Horror: a child could, under adult supervision and with safety and common sense in mind, add a few drops of glycerine onto a small heap of KMnO4 on a heat-proof surface, stand back and watch the little deflagration ensue. Modern kid's chemistry sets are a mockery! Interesting documentary, but I was irritated by the chemophobia that is so prevalent these days. Here is the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2m4ghw2bsQ



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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 01:16


Quote: Originally posted by Twospoons  
Thing is its much better to let kids suffer a minor injury from such simple chems, to act as a reminder as to why safety gear is a good idea when handling something a bit nastier.
Nothing teaches respect and caution like pain does.



[Edited on 11-12-2020 by Twospoons]


In the setting of the Undergraduate Chemistry Lab, I once witnessed a young woman being reduced to tears because she was expected to handle a glass Winchester bottle of conc. HCl, probably for the first time ever! It is fear of handling a chemical and not having a full understanding of its properties that is more likely to result in accidents.
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 01:29


The point is not the stupid level of restriction. That is nuts just by itself.
The problem is that meeting the requirements of one government organisation will make it impossible to meet the educational directives of the other. In other words, the students can't pass. Which means we cannot teach chemistry (or probably physics for that matter) at this school.
What the hell we do about this, I just don't know.
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 01:34


Quote: Originally posted by j_sum1  
The point is not the stupid level of restriction. That is nuts just by itself.
The problem is that meeting the requirements of one government organisation will make it impossible to meet the educational directives of the other. In other words, the students can't pass. Which means we cannot teach chemistry (or probably physics for that matter) at this school.
What the hell we do about this, I just don't know.

Have chemists travel to the kids. There are enough people in industry passionate about stem to make this work.
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 01:38


Quote: Originally posted by j_sum1  
The point is not the stupid level of restriction. That is nuts just by itself.
The problem is that meeting the requirements of one government organisation will make it impossible to meet the educational directives of the other. In other words, the students can't pass. Which means we cannot teach chemistry (or probably physics for that matter) at this school.
What the hell we do about this, I just don't know.


Why not take the mickey out of the chemically illiterate H&S pen pushers by requiring the pupils to wear ludicrously over-the-top PPE for handling Mg ribbon and dilute acetic acid? Full-body PVC hazmat suits, PVC gauntlets, rubber boots, facemask with respirator cartridge, perspex explosion screens............:D Or would the irony be lost on the pen pushers?

[Edited on 11-12-2020 by HydrogenSulphate]
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 01:52


Quote: Originally posted by HydrogenSulphate  
Quote: Originally posted by j_sum1  
The point is not the stupid level of restriction. That is nuts just by itself.
The problem is that meeting the requirements of one government organisation will make it impossible to meet the educational directives of the other. In other words, the students can't pass. Which means we cannot teach chemistry (or probably physics for that matter) at this school.
What the hell we do about this, I just don't know.


Why not take the mickey out of the chemically illiterate H&S pen pushers by requiring the pupils to wear ludicrously over-the-top PPE for handling Mg ribbon and dilute acetic acid? Full-body PVC hazmat suits, PVC gauntlets, rubber boots, facemask with respirator cartridge, perspex explosion screens............:D Or would the irony be lost on the pen pushers?

[Edited on 11-12-2020 by HydrogenSulphate]


While this would be amusing it would not help. What I have learnt in dealing with Australian government and its state agencies is that they do things very slowly. In this instance they have likey responded to some incident probably many years ago and changed their rules as a result. Your response needs to fit within the rules and have a positive outcome. Don't give up in frustration, keep innovating and devise a solution.
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 02:38


Ask for access to final year stem teaching students. Surely the department would be ok with them traveling to the distance students to assist?
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 02:46


Curriculum requirements are that the students take a basic experiment and then adapt it and conduct an extended investigation of their own. The situation will not be solved be sending oersonnel out or by gathering students in. They are spread all over the state.
The school has 1500 students and the senior school is growing rapidly. We need a sustainable solution.
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 05:20


To be honest, my chemistry lessons were 100% theoretical, hence it was very boring, but least boring of the math and physics for the hope that I might learn something in acutal.

On the other hand, performing actual complete synthesis and other really educating work stuff in school labs would need much better facilities. The singular exceptions when we were burning matches or wathing teacher make copper sulfate crystals were never something that I was interested into.
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 06:02


I just remembered lotsa titration (quantitative analysis) and testing for ions (qualitative analysis).
Tho each student has his own dilute acids and alkalis, and a bottle of dichromate solution (pH indicator?), in front of him on the bench ...

I also "took home" a small piece of magnesium ribbon and burned it at the kitchen stove to wow my siblings :D

[Edited on 11-12-2020 by artemov]

[Edited on 11-12-2020 by artemov]
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 06:52


In this regard I can recall only this old video: https://youtu.be/Y9TviIuXPSE?t=907
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 07:14


Well this is completely insane.

Anyway, can't you just substitute Zn for Mg and have the students put pennies in acid?




[Edited on 04-20-1969 by clearly_not_atara]
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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 08:40
HPO3


9th grade, age 14(1973) I had to make metaphosphoric
acid using red P and water. Water in erlenmeyer flask
with a piece of blue litmus paper. Ignite red P in a
deflagrating spoon with bunsen burner. Hold smoking
red P in flask for a bit. Cover flask and shake until
litmus turns red. Write equation on the board. All this
a with cast on my right arm(broken wrist).

How is magnesium dangerous unless it's burning ?
Reacting it with vinegar dangerous ? These people are
way too paranoid ! J_sum1 go right on and rant
because this nanny state bullshit is way out of hand. :mad:





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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 08:47


J_sum1: This is really insane. You remind me friend of mine, which also gave some experiment homework to students. But he didn't have any problems. I really don't get it - NaHCO3 is hazardous? Wtf. It is used in baking but it is insanely dangerous! World is going mad. Everybody is scared from chemistry.

B(a)P: I also think about doing some chemistry demonstrations across my country. Sadly, I don't have much time and opportunities for this.

Outer_limits: I always say that I am waiting for banning of salt, because it is NaCl, so it is chemical = it is dangerous :D.

Woelen: You are talking about chemical or nonchemical high schools? Because if at chemical high schools students practically can't work with chemicals, it is really, really sad. Everything you described I did on high school. We cannot work with solid dichromates (because of start of stupidness), but I have an exception :D (not official of course, just from teacher).




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[*] posted on 11-12-2020 at 09:08


This is just taking away peoples' freedom.
I would be striking, if it would be like that in my country, although sadly not many really care about it.
It's like totalitarism, but in the name of good value, which is safety.
This is a big problem nowadays generally, doing bad to people in the name of misinterpretation or radical escalation of good values, making idiots from people to rule them easier...

[Edited on 11-12-2020 by mackolol]
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