Over the years the professionalism of teachers and technicians has ensured that school laboratories and workshops have a good safety record. Legislation has now reinforced this natural disposition. The major, United Kingdom, statutory provisions relating to the storage handling and use of chemicals at work are briefly as follows :
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act, 1974 (and subsequent amendments) – an enabling Act under which more detailed requirements may be laid down in secondary legislation or Regulations such as
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations – often referred to as ‘The Management Regulations’ and more specifically
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH)
The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR)
After use the disposal of unwanted chemicals and other materials may well be subject to:
The Control of Pollution Act 1974 (CoPA)
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA).
The Special Waste Regulations, 1996 and The Special Waste Amendment (Scotland) Regulations 2004 which in Scotland implement the relevant parts of Hazardous Waste Directive set out in the European Commission Decision 2000/532/EC. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the Hazardous Waste Regulations, 2005 apply with a very similar effect; one difference is that schools in those countries have to register with their Environment Agency (the Environment and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland) if they produce more than 200 kg of “hazardous waste” per year. In a normal year a Science department is unlikely to produce even a small fraction of this.
Other legislation impinges less directly on educational laboratories. That legislation affects the environmental functions of Water Authorities and Water Supply Companies and there are secondary effects on schools and colleges in the form of lists restricting the discharge into drains and sewers of a number of substances. Salient components of this type of legislation are discussed further in the section on Disposal.
Other countries, especially those in Europe, will have parallel or broadly similar legislation. Other environmental regulatory changes will have wide ranging effects on the legal requirements for recycling and disposal arrangements for laboratory wastes other than chemicals. An example is the Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment(or WEEE).
Risk Assessments etc
Among other things, the Management Regulations and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations require employers to carry out risk assessments for any potentially hazardous activities.
For recognised educational courses, where there are planned or pre-tested practicals with known procedures and quantities, it is relatively easy for employers to adopt the control measures given on the SSERC website. The Hazardous Chemicals Database may thus be adopted as a set of results from model (general) risk assessments. Employers need also to overtly inform their teachers of that decision.
Where the method or scale of intended usage are somewhat different from that so described, the control measures may need some adaptation. For project work or research however it is not possible to always know in advance the details of the materials and their mode of use. The work may have to be broken down into separate steps or tasks each of which can then be examined separately. When this is done it usually happens that several such steps are covered by the results from existing general (or ‘model’) assessments and the relevant control measures can be taken from the safety data sheet for the chemical concerned. A few steps of the procedure may not be covered by model assessments, and in such cases employers will have to arrange the preparation of their own special or Novel assessments. To do this the information on the hazards of a substance can be taken from the safety sheet on the chemical concerned and considered along with its mode and scale of use. It should then be possible to estimate degrees of risk.
Further assistance with the preparation of novel risk assessments can be found in the SSERC publication : Preparing Risk Assessments for Project Work.(revised 2015).