Letters to the editor

  • The Science Department at Sir Winston Churchill in Calgary has just renewed our subscription to this publication, as we find it a treat to read. Concerning the article “Requirement of laboratory safety training on teacher certification” by Jim Kaufmann, you may be interested to know that all teachers and technicians of science in our School Board, and other courses that use chemicals and equipment, have to complete Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) training.

More than that, each and every lab and demo we do in classes has to be run through Riskassess.ca*, which our Board pays for. It is a wonderful piece of software which will create a risk assessment when you enter all your materials, equipment and procedure. Each teacher, then is informed, about safety and risks for themselves and students, and has to judge if the experience is worth the risk. We also have a list of materials we cannot use in the classroom for any reason. The software allows us to see labs requested by other teachers in our school, rooms and materials that are booked for labs, helping our Science Technician ensure labs run smoothly.

Deb Miller
Sir Winston Churchill High School
Calgary AB

*Riskassess software helps teachers and science technologists perform risk assessments. Versions to meet Canadian, Australian and New Zealand standards are available.

  • Jim Kaufmann’s article sums up the big difference between safety in the US and the UK. Here in the UK we have a Nationwide Health & Safety at Work Act (1974). This enshrines a legal duty on the employer to provide “such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees.” So it is not the teacher who has to show a certificate of safety, it is the teacher’s employer who has to ensure the teacher works safely in the lab by providing the information and training. CLEAPSS* and SSERC** in the UK can provide such information and training if asked.

Is this a nanny state? Some politicians and employers think so and would love not to be involved in such silly details as safety — as it only costs them money. Several attempts to remove these onerous burdens on employers have been made but when the law is examined carefully it is found to be sensible and works. In a recent case that came to court, a technician blew off some fingers making an explosive. You can read about it on the Health and Safety Executive website.

So look who is prosecuted. It is the school. The technician’s supervisor and employer should have been monitoring what was going on in that chemistry department and asking questions. We never get to hear the full story about what happens next but even if students have been injured, the employer would be in court. So Nanny knows best and that is why all the rich people in the UK employ nannies to look after their children.

Bob Worley
CLEAPSS, Uxbridge UK

*CLEAPSS is an advisory service providing support in science & technology for a consortium of local authorities and their schools.

**SSERC, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre is a non-profit that offers Health & Safety advice and Continuing Professional Development to Technical Education teachers.