Several directives give guidance on how work in the school’s chemistry lab can be carried out in a safe way. Two of them, the most relevant ones, are discussed below.
Health and Safety of Workers
The rules for both science teachers (employees) and principals (or other employers) when it comes to chemical safety are included in an EU directive about the health and safety of workers at work and an individual directive on risks related to chemical agents at work.
The directives provide that the employer shall determine whether any hazardous chemical agents are present at the workplace. If so, the employer shall, among other obligations:
- Ensure that the worker has enough time and training to be able to perform the safety work.
- Consult workers on all questions relating to safety and health at work.
- Designate a sufficient number of workers to carry out activities related to the protection and prevention of occupational risks for the establishment. This/these designated worker(s) shall be allowed adequate time to fulfil their obligations. These workers must have the necessary capabilities and the necessary means.
- Assess any risk to the health and safety of workers arising from the presence of those chemical agents, including for instance in the choice of equipment and chemical substances.
- Take the necessary preventive measures for health and safety.
- Take appropriate measures so that workers receive all the necessary information concerning the health and safety risks and protective and preventive measures.
It is however the responsibility of each worker to take care of their own safety, as far as possible. The Directive 89/391/EEC therefore states that the worker is obliged to cooperate with the employer to ensure safe working conditions including to:
- Use apparatus, tools and dangerous substances correctly.
- Take care as far as possible, of their own safety in accordance with their training and the instructions given by the employer.
- Immediately inform the employer of any shortcomings of the protection arrangements. For example, a shortcoming could be that you don’t have the correct cupboard to store your gas container.
- Cooperate with the employer to enable any tasks or requirements imposed.
In addition, Member States are required to introduce specific arrangements for carrying out appropriate health surveillance of workers. It is therefore necessary to consult specific domestic legislations on that matter.
Protection from Carcinogens and Mutagens at Work
Carcinogenic, mutagenic and reproductive toxic chemicals (CMRs), make up the first and most toxic category of the classes into which hazardous chemicals can be subdivided. The Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive sets out the minimum requirements for protecting workers against risks to their health and safety, arising or likely to arise, from exposure to carcinogens and mutagens at work, including obligations for the employers and for the workers involved in the activities concerned. These substances are also identified as substances of very high concern, which is discussed in Restrictions due to Health or Environmental Hazards.