In the Blink of an Eye – Contact lenses and Lab Safety


This article by James Kaufman, of the Laboratory Safety Institute (LSI) provides an interesting summary of the myths and facts regarding contact lens safety in the lab.

This article is provided with permission of LSI and was originally published in their Winter 2016-17 issue of “Speaking of Safety” newsletter.  Access to the newsletter is free.  Sign up for your subscription 

Click here to download article 

Hazard and Risk – How they differ

A lot of jargon is used when talking about risk and some of this can be confusing. In the discussion about chemicals, the words “risk” and “hazard” are very often used as if interchangeable. In this brochure we offer our understanding of the difference between these expressions, appreciation of which is fundamental to informed debate on the safety of chemical products and processes.

This article by Cefic – The European Chemical Industry Council provides an excellent yet simple overview of the difference between these terms.

Click here to download the article.


Labelling Requirements for Consumer Products in 2017

consumer-labelsWHMIS 2015 

WHMIS 2015 covers a wide range of hazardous chemicals and substances (called “controlled products”), including everyday chemical products found in workplaces, such as cleaning supplies, adhesives and solvents. Although not as dangerous as other controlled products used in industrial processes, these products may still pose hazards to workers and the environment.

In Canada, any controlled product that’s packaged as a consumer product and in quantities normally used by the public is generally exempt from WHMIS 2015 supplier label and SDS requirements. An item is generally considered to be “packaged as a consumer product” if it’s:

  • In a container of a size and type usually sold to the public; and
  • Available for sale to the public through retail outlets.

Example: A solvent considered a controlled product under WHMIS 2015 that’s packaged in a 250-millilitre container and sold in a hardware store is a consumer product and thus is exempt from supplier label and SDS requirements. The same solvent packaged in a 454-litre drum and sold at an industrial supply outlet isn’t a consumer product and does require a supplier label and SDS.

Labels on consumer products generally have sufficient information to serve as workplace labels. School board training should already be in place to ensure that workers can read and understand the warnings on consumer products.

As some of the consumer products stored in our chemical store rooms are intended to be ingested, a label indicating that it is not to be eaten should be attached to the container. Citing that it is potentially contaminated should discourage students from eating these consumer products.


  • WHMIS 2015 covers hazardous chemicals (controlled products)
  • Consumer products sold to the public and in quantities used by the public are exempt from WHMIS 2015 supplier labels and SDS requirements.
  • In most cases the existing label will serve as a workplace label.
  • Worker training will be limited to ensuring that the worker understands the warnings on the label.

Is there a place for 30% peroxide in High School Chemistry?

In a recent blog post, the activity Elephant’s Toothpaste was demonstrated. The activity was in keeping with our STAO safety policy regarding chemical use. In that policy, we suggest the use of small quantities of chemicals, at as low a concentration as possible to allow the reaction to proceed. Teachers are also asked to explore safer alternatives to replace reactions that introduce an unacceptable element of risk. In this video, it was suggested that the reaction proceed with 3 or 6% hydrogen peroxide, yeast as a source of catalase, soap and food colouring. As expected, the reaction proceeded well with a coloured soapy foam spilling out of the container. This was a good example of putting our policy (low concentrations, safer alternatives). As peroxide, even in low concentrations (6%), can cause serious damage to eyes, goggles should have been worn by the student in the video.

Hazards of 30% Hydrogen Peroxide

STAO recommends that 30 % hydrogen peroxide be only used by the teacher.  Its hazards include:

  • It can act as either an oxidyzing agent or reducing agent
  • It is caustic
  • It can decompose rapidly in the presence of catalysts
  • It can rapidly decompose when exposed to metal impurities (especially multivalent)
  • It can spontaneously ignite organic materials such as cotton, leather, paper towels

While these properties may seem alarming, they are common among the other oxidizers that are in our chemical inventory and used for lab activities and demonstrations. The “Teacher Use” designation should signify to teachers that the substance has a hazard level above the chemicals used for student activities. Precautions for the use of 30 % hydrogen peroxide include goggles, acid resist gloves, synthetic apron and keeping students at a safe distance from the demonstration. A self-standing chemical shield (aka explosion shield) is also reduces the risk injury without obscuring the view.

Recommended Video Resource 

Evonik Industries has produced a 30-minute training video (see link below) covering the industrial use of 50 -70% hydrogen peroxide. The video provides several neat demonstrations showing rapid decomposition, reaction to impurities and spontaneous combustion. It offers several good safety tips appropriate for high school. These include:

  • Never pour a decanted sample back into a stock bottle
  • Store peroxide at less than 30′ C
  • Store the stock bottle within a plastic tray
  • Use non-organic PPE’s (not leather)
  • Do not wipe spills with paper towels or natural cloths.
  • Even very dilute solutions can cause serious eye damage


Dave Gervais

Chair STAO Safety Committee


1) H2O2 Safety Training Video – Evonik is a leading global manufacturer of hydrogen peroxide

Link to Video

2) Link to Picture of  Hydrogen Peroxide burns (35%)






Classification of Lasers Question to the STAO Safety Committee

laser 2Question:

The STAO Safe on Science document (2011) indicates that only class 1 and class 2 lasers are recommended for use in high school science classes. Many of the documents that I have examined indicate that Class 3A (old classification), now called Class 3R (new classification) are also safe, unless viewed through an optical device. I respectfully request that the safety committee re-examine this issue, and include Class 3R in the  recommendation.

Click for the committee’s response.  


Borax Slime Activity Concerns Update

Borax Advisory Update Health Canada

Health Canada issued an advisory this past summer, suggesting that exposure to boron substances be reduced as much as possible from all sources. They identified boron substances as a developmental and reproductive health risk. They also stated that parents should not make slime and putties with borax and boric acid. By extension, teachers began to question the safety of making slime in their science classes. In response to questions posed by the STAO Safety Committee, Health Canada has clarified their advisory issued this past summer.

Regarding the use of Borax/Boric Acid, Health Canada wrote:

The proper use of gloves and goggles will reduce exposures to chemical substances. The main concern with the use of boron containing substances for making slimes or putties, is with accidental or intentional ingestion. This ingestion hazard is mainly targeted at young children who are prone to hand-to-mouth activities.

High school students, who have received proper training in hazardous material handling, and who are properly supervised to prevent ingestion, would be at low risk of exposure to boron, or other hazardous materials used as part of a science curriculum. The safe disposal of any boron containing substances should be closely monitored to prevent accidental or intentional ingestion.

Students younger than high school age, and those who have not been properly advised in the safe handling of laboratory chemicals should not be using borax, or any other hazardous chemicals at home or in a school setting.

Suggestions for activities involving borax or boric acid:

Although the chemicals containing boron do not readily cross the skin barrier, steps could be taken to prevent skin contact. Students could be issued gloves or alternatively, the ingredients for slime could be placed in a sealed plastic bag and then mixed. Students should be instructed to wash their hands at the end of the lab activity. Teachers should then collect the slime prior to dismissal to ensure that accidental or intentional ingestion does not occur. The slime can then be thrown out with the regular garbage.

Some suggested safer alternatives, for making slime or putties involving glue, have a high volatile organic compound (VOC) content and release this into the air. However, other glue and borax free recipes are available on-line and teachers are encouraged to explore the use of these safer alternatives.

We hope that the information in this response will help you in making an informed decision as to the use of boron containing substances in teaching science. Our safety committee can be contacted with your safety questions at, attention STAO Safety Committee.
Dave Gervais
Chair STAO Safety Committee