Teaching Chemistry in a high school or college setting involves a variety of safety hazards. When people think about safety in schools, topics like bullying and students bringing weapons to school are at the forefront of news media, however, there is another important school safety issue that teachers and administrators may not even know exists – chemical lab storage and stock room safety. Improper storage is more than an OSHA violation. If these chemicals are not stored properly, or if the teacher does not have the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to accompany every material (acids, corrosives, flammable materials) in the stock room, the safety of the building and therefore, everyone inside the school could be at risk. These two factors remain one of the most important aspects of maintaining a comfortable learning environment, and improper chemical storage can have very negative consequences if not handled correctly.
Why MSDS Sheets are important to chemical storage safety
In the chemistry lab, the teacher and students are often handling very hazardous and flammable substances and materials – all with an inherent risk of injury at any moment’s notice. This is why Students need to be taught proper lab safety when performing any type of hands on activity. Additionally, this is also why the chemistry teacher need to have their MSDS sheets (Materials and Safety Data Sheets) on hand in the room. A compilation of the MSDS sheets allows the teacher to effectively determine every single type of hazard that any given chemical can cause. From Flammability to corrosiveness and even if certain chemicals have inhalation hazards. These sheets also provide extensive information on how to store these volatile chemicals safely in OSHA approved storage cabinets in the stock room.
OSHA Approved Chemical Storage Cabinets
One thing that sometimes goes unrecognized as a teacher and or building supervisor is proper OSHA storage of certain lab chemicals, mainly acids and flammables. Possessing and maintaining a proper storage cabinet for these types of chemicals is a necessity in a chemical store room to contain hazardous materials. For example, when referring to the common types of lab grade acids you may find in a high school chemistry lab, many of these acids have storage risks associated with them over time. Everyone knows the dangers of handling acids, but many are not aware of the types of explosive compounds these acids can form if not properly stored. Nitric acid is a very common lab reagent, and it requires a separate compartment within the OSHA compliant safety cabinet to be stored properly. The reason for this is that nitric acid being an organic acid, if stored with inorganic acids such as acetic or formic acid can create toxic and or flammable fumes within the safe storage cabinet if they are next to each other. This is why nitric acid should be stored separate from all other acids within the acid storage cabinet or inside its own acid storage cabinet. Once again, this is why MSDS sheets are extremely helpful in determining safe storage of chemicals. Flammable materials should also be stored in a flammable materials cabinet. Compounds that are considered highly volatile need to be stored in their own cabinet so the fumes cannot react with other compounds in storage. These compounds include any alcohol, acetone, mineral oil, or “ene” compounds (xylene, toluene, hexene…). This also keeps all flammable items away from any type of heat source i.e. a heater or electrical equipment that could ignite flammable vapors inadvertently. The chances that something would react during storage are slim, but these are the types of scenarios that usually end in serious injury to staff and students if not properly maintained at the school.
These are just a few of the reasons teachers and administrators need to stay up to date on the types of chemicals stored in the classroom, and above all if they are stored properly. Ordering proper storage cabinets is a cheaper alternative to lawsuits filed by staff and parents in the event an accident happens. It is also cheaper than the fines dealt out by OSHA if a problem is detected in your building. These regulations are meant to do one thing, keep the building safe. It is extremely important to remember that a safe building fosters learning and a sense of security for staff and students.