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HSE chair on fire after risk assessment

04 February 2009

Judith Hackitt CBE, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was at Bacon’s College, London last week, alongside Dr David Brown, Chief Executive of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) to encourage more hands-on science demonstrations in schools.

HSE chair on fire after risk assessment
HSE chair on fire after risk assessment

During the visit, Hackitt and Brown performed The Flaming Hands, one of the safe, risk-assessed science demonstrations included in IChemE’s Top 10 Flash Bang Demos. In the demonstration, methane is released into a bubble mixture of soap solution, glycerol and distilled water. The bubbles are then placed into the cupped hands of the demonstrator and set alight. The methane burns spectacularly but the small amount of heat generated is not sufficient to burn the skin. The demonstration explains the scientific principles of combustion but also points out that when a hazard is properly risk assessed, seemingly dangerous experiments can be carried out without fear of injury.

The visit was part of a campaign to urge science teachers not to fear breaking health and safety rules and re-introduce exciting and engaging practical demonstrations to the classroom.

Hackitt said: “I fully support IChemE’s and Government’s initiatives to bring science to life by integrating these sort of classroom demonstrations that make children excited about science – ‘flash-bang’ makes it enjoyable and memorable. This demonstrates to teachers that they can do more exciting classroom lessons without unduly worrying about health and safety.”

The demonstrations are designed to encourage science teachers to add a greater practical focus to their lessons. Brown suggests that better science lessons means better student uptake in further education: “The best way to learn science is to do science. Practical demonstrations are far more appealing and likely to stick in the mind than learning it from a textbook.

“Ensuring school science lessons are interesting, memorable and fun will persuade more schoolchildren to stick with science and consider studying science or engineering subjects at university,” said Brown.
IChemE’s ‘whynotchemeng’ initiative was launched in 2001 to tackle a growing shortage of students opting to study chemical engineering at UK universities. Since the campaign’s launch, applications to study the subject have risen by over 70% and student intake has doubled.

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