Monday, February 9, 2009

Safety in the Science Lab: The Goggles Story

I tell this story because it may save someone's eyesight or life. I hope you will remember it, embellish it, and use it for your own, "jumping up and down," classes.* (See note below for permission information.)

My students like to laugh when I emphatically insist on safety rule. I still jump up and down to get the point across. Safety is critical!

The students were teasing me about insisting on safety goggles. Still, I was persistent. They got the idea about safety goggles: "We have a crazy teacher. We'd better wear our safety goggles." The teasing was ok. I could take it. They wore their goggles.

I went on to cover washing the eyes in case of emergency, hot glass looking like cold glass, among many other safety issues. For example, chemists clear a building in less than a minute when the fire alarm goes off (None of this waiting around inside until the firemen tell you it was a false alarm, or, not. They get out, "now!".). The students respected the eye-wash and safety shower. I reminded them that safety goggles should be used at other times, too: at work and at home, for example, mowing the lawn, using household chemical, or when using solvents like gasoline. I reminded them how important it was to wash out the eyes for a minimum of 15 minutes if they got anything in them.We went on to design some laboratory experiments once the safety topic was done to my satisfaction.

It was summer. Many of the students had jobs. It was hot outside. Class was soon over (When doing experimental design, time goes quickly in a most enjoyable fashion.)

A few days later, I got a call from the dean, one of my students would be out for a while, he had been in an accident. The weather was great for swimming, then a cloudy day or two before the usual hot and humid Boston summer.

He missed a few classes. When he returned, he said, "Every one always wear your safety goggles. Jump up and down as much as you like, Dr. J. My doctor says I can see because of what you taught me about safety." You can't imagine how I felt. It made up for years of being teased about being insistent on safety issues before doing lab work. This student told me to always be as emphatic as I was with his class.

What had happened?

The student was a life guard. One of the days after the initial class was a warm, but, cloudy day. He wasn't wearing the usual sunglasses that you might at the swimming pool on a sunny day. He added chlorine to the pool and the chemical went into his eyes. He didn't hesitate, though he couldn't see. He dove into the pool and blinked his eyes several times, coming up for air and to tell someone to call 911. He then kept blinking in the water until help arrived.

The doctor said he might be permanently blind. He was blind for four terrifying days. Luckily, he got his sight back. They didn't think he would. The doctors said it was only his quick thinking of diving into the pool to wash his eyes, and washing them for a long time, that saved his sight.

So, if you see Dr. J (or your own science teacher) jumping up and down to make a safety point, you know she's (or he's) not crazy. She's (or he's) on her (or his) safety spree.

*(c)1996-2009 J S Shipman. For permission to use this story for profit, contact the author for an agreement. For use in teaching in your own class, please cite this blog.

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