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BY-NC-ND 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter July 13, 2023

A new online resource for chemical safety and green chemistry in science education

  • Svein Tveit EMAIL logo and Karoline Faegri

Abstract

Science and chemistry teachers often feel that they have insufficient knowledge about the legal requirements concerning proper handling of chemicals. To help teachers and technicians, we have developed an online resource with information and tools for the various aspects of chemical safety, such as legislation, risk assessment, storage, labelling and waste handling, including a framework for routines and training for staff and students. Additionally, the resource introduces the concept of green chemistry, an emerging field within chemistry education, and provides examples on how teachers could work with green chemistry principles in the science and chemistry classroom. The aim is that this extensive online material, covering the most important aspects of health, safety and environmental work in school science education, can serve as a useful resource for school leaders, teachers, technicians and science teacher educators in their work with these issues. The resource was developed by partners from the Universities of Helsinki, Ljubljana, Oslo, and Stockholm and co-funded by the Erasmus+ program of the European Union. The content is published in five languages and is freely available at https://chesse.org.

1 Introduction

The purpose of this special issue paper is to present the Online Resource for Chemical Safety in Science Education (ORCheSSE). ORCheSSE was an Erasmus+ funded project which aimed to develop an online resource for chemical safety in science education based on European legislation (European Commision). The project was based on two rationales. First, the development of the material was inspired by the experiences of the four partners. Finland, Norway, Slovenia, and Sweden had already developed digital resources on a national level to help teachers in their work with chemical issues regarding health, safety, and the environment (HSE). However, many of the resources were not up to date on issues concerning legislation, and there was a need to update and unify the resources. Second, according to earlier research there is a great need for high quality chemical safety material for science education (Hussein & Shifera, 2022; Schenk et al., 2018; Sigmann, 2018).

Good practices with regards to health, safety and the environment are always important when working with chemicals, and even more so in schools, where the chemicals are used for educational purposes by inexperienced users, mostly minors. However, skills in practical chemical safety work in the science and chemistry classrooms are not necessarily a part of the regular training of science and chemistry teachers and technicians. Furthermore, there has been a substantial development in regulations and other legislation concerning chemicals in the last decades. The EU regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of chemicals (Regulation (EC)1907/2006), that became effective in 2007, guides registration, evaluation, permits and restrictions on chemical substances. The implementation of this and other legislation has added to the workload for science teachers all over Europe. Even though the amounts of chemicals used in school science education is relatively small, the legislation for handling chemicals is the same for a school doing small scale science experiments as for a factory producing chemicals (Directive 89/391/EEC; Regulation (EC) 1907/2006). This increases the workload related to chemical safety, and the need for knowledge and know-how on how to address chemical risks in science education. The teachers and technicians therefore need help and resources to be able to handle these issues in an appropriate way.

To support the described needs, the ORCheSSE project team developed a website for chemical safety management for science and chemistry education (https://chesse.org). The website was developed through an international collaboration first in English and then translated into the languages of the four participating countries. The main target groups for the resource are science teachers, technicians, school leaders and science teacher educators. However, the outputs can also be useful for national and regional agencies for education, work environment and chemistry, who support and control the use of chemicals in schools.

Our website is of course not the only resource to address chemical safety issues. The American Chemistry Society has produced various resources on chemical safety for different target groups (Hunter et al., 2021). The main focus in many of these resources is risk assessment, which is highly relevant. Few of them, however, have a broad scope that covers everything from legislation and responsibility issues to storage, waste handling, and the aforementioned risk assessment. A resource that provides an introduction to the many different areas of chemical safety work at an easily accessible level and is updated according to common European legislation on these topics, can fill a need among science and chemistry teachers, as well as school leaders, in many European countries. The Consortium of Local Educational Authorities for the Provision of Science Service (CLEAPSS) (https://www.cleapss.org.uk/) probably provide the most authoritative and comprehensive European resource available, but it requires a subscription. We therefore believe that https://chesse.org fills a need and is a useful, low threshold addition to those resources already available.

2 Contents of the resource

All the content of the resource is located at https://chesse.org and is available in English, Finnish, Norwegian, Slovenian, and Swedish. For the convenience of the reader, the content is divided into six main sections, that will be presented below. Figure 1 shows the layout of the front page. Here, each main section is represented by a colored, clickable tile leading to the various sections.

Figure 1: 
The front page of the website https://chesse.org. The page is divided into six sections. 1. Responsibilities, routines, and training. 2. Risk assessment and substitution. 3. Labelling, storage and waste management. 4. Legislation. 5. Green chemistry. 6. Checklist and tools.
Figure 1:

The front page of the website https://chesse.org. The page is divided into six sections. 1. Responsibilities, routines, and training. 2. Risk assessment and substitution. 3. Labelling, storage and waste management. 4. Legislation. 5. Green chemistry. 6. Checklist and tools.

The first section, Responsibilities, routines, and training introduces the legal responsibilities of employers, teachers, and students. It advocates a systematic approach to chemical safety and provides templates for chemical safety routines and checklists for inspections that the school can adapt to their own needs. This allows the schools to meet the quality system and documentation requirements in the legislation. We also stress the importance of providing resources and training both to teachers and students who work with chemicals and to teachers who are given other tasks related to chemical safety in schools. For those who are new to chemical safety work, this section is the natural place to start. It also serves as a gateway to the rest of the resource by linking to other sections that go more in depth on the various topics introduced here. Figure 2 shows an overview of routines found in this section.

Figure 2: 
Set of routines with templates and checklist that can be found in the section for responsibilities, routines and training on the https://chesse.org website. In the figure, the editable files under Routines for risk assessment are shown.
Figure 2:

Set of routines with templates and checklist that can be found in the section for responsibilities, routines and training on the https://chesse.org website. In the figure, the editable files under Routines for risk assessment are shown.

The section Risk assessment and substitution provides information about how to perform and document risk assessments of practical work, as well as a risk assessment template. The legislation requires all practical work, including preparations and demonstrations, to be risk assessed. This section also includes information about the substitution process, thoughts on which chemicals should be evaluated for substitution, and ideas on how to substitute these chemicals.

The section Labelling, storage, and waste management covers the basics of proper chemical management and disposal. Here, the reader can find guidelines for responsible labelling based on the EU regulation on classification, packaging and labelling of substances and mixtures. To aid teachers, this part also includes a label generator where it is possible to generate labels for different concentrations of around thirty chemicals commonly used in school science education.

Moreover, the resource provides information about recommended and required storage conditions for various groups of chemicals. In the section about waste management, criteria to classify waste as hazardous and suggestions on how to organize waste in different containers are presented, including a flowchart that can be used to decide which container to use for the different types of waste.

Legislation gives a brief introduction to relevant European legislation on different levels. The majority of the legislation related to chemical safety is common for the European countries, including rules for labelling (Regulation (EC) 1272/2008), regulations and restrictions on sale of certain chemicals (Regulation (EC) 273/2004; Regulation (EC) 1907/2006; Regulation (EU) 2019/1148), and waste handling (Directive 2008/98/EC), to mention some central issues. Much of the legislation about work safety is also common (Directive 89/391/EEC; Directive 94/33/EC; Directive 98/24/EC; Directive 2004/37/EC). Here the reader can find the legal basis for many of the recommendations found in other parts of the resource, and links to relevant directives and regulations are provided.

The section Green chemistry contains a brief introduction to the principles of green chemistry based on the work of Anastas and Warner (1998). This section also includes a selection of experimental work that implements green chemistry concepts in various ways, complete with printable student work sheets and teacher notes. Some of the experiments incorporate green chemistry metrics, such as the green star, described by Ribeiro et al. (2010). The metrics can be used as tools to evaluate the greenness of laboratory experiments in science education.

The Checklists and tools section is intended for users returning to chesse.org to find a specific template or checklist. Here, links to all downloadable documents found in other parts of the resource are easily accessible.

We believe that the resource covers the most important aspects of HSE work in school science education. By advocating for and enabling schools to have a systematic approach to chemical safety, it will be of great value for school leaders, teachers, technicians, and science teacher educators as a resource that they can use to work with HSE-related issues in their schools.

3 Development of the resource

At the beginning of the project, a survey was conducted among teachers and teacher educators in the countries of all the participating institutions. In the survey, they were asked which topics they found most important for maintaining chemical safety in the school science and chemistry education, as well as what sort of questions they wanted a resource to answer. As an example, 60 surveys were collected from teachers and teacher educators in Norway. The topics that 10 or more persons requested were: Waste handling (29), Storage (21), Legislation (14), Risk assessment (12), Labelling (11) and Handling chemicals (10). The information from these surveys were combined with the project partners’ experiences with HSE-related issues to determine the content of the online resource.

The project was organized into four intellectual outputs (IOs), IO1: Legislation, IO2: Website, IO3: Teacher guide (including routines, responsibilities, training, risk assessment, substitution, labelling, storage, and waste disposal), and IO4: Green chemistry. The work was organized by constructing working groups consisting of persons from all the collaborating countries. IOs 1, 2, and 4 each had one working group. For IO3, the work was divided between three working groups, because IO3 required the most content creation. Content was mainly developed and decided in the groups. However, we systematically implemented feedback from “critical friends”, meaning that project members who were not part of the working group, read and commented the material to assess and improve the quality. Content was then submitted to the website group, for additional proofreading and feedback regarding user friendliness and universal design. The material was only published after these issues were resolved.

Prototypes of the web pages and downloadable documents also received feedback on content and user friendliness from reference groups in the participating countries. These reference groups were primarily composed of individuals involved in science and chemistry education at different levels of the educational system, but also included some individuals from other sectors, such as The Swedish Work Environment Agency. The feedback from the reference groups was used to improve the web pages’ content and structure.

A significant part of the content in the resource is based on or related to European legislation. It was therefore decided to use the work on legislation in IO1 as a pilot project for both content creation and web design. For this part of the resource, lawyers from the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) contributed in several ways, including valuable feedback and quality assurance. The experiences gained from working with the legislative content served as the foundation for the development of the teacher guide.

The first step in the work with IO4, green chemistry, was to create a database consisting of 150 articles about experimental work and green chemistry, as described by Ferk Savec and Mlinarec (2021). Working group members from the participating countries optimized several laboratory activities from this database. Furthermore, green chemistry related laboratory activities that were considered examples of good practice from the working group members’ own countries were collected and optimized. In the end, the working group narrowed the amount of laboratory activities down to nine elaborated and optimized activities, which are available on the English version of the website.

A Green Tick Evaluation was performed in October 2022 by an expert from The Association for Science Education (ASE) to quality control the content of the published website. The evaluation was performed on all parts of the website except the part about green chemistry as this was not yet published on the website at the time of the evaluation. The purpose of a Green Tick Evaluation is to describe strength and weaknesses in the material, and to help schools to make informed decisions on how they might use the material (“Green Tick,” 2022). The evaluation of https://chesse.org was generally positive for the different parts of the resource, but it also suggested areas for improvement, particularly recommending a greater number of examples on topics such as risk assessment, to model good practice.

Once the content had been translated and adapted to national legislation, it also received feedback from reference groups in Norway and Sweden. This feedback was generally positive. However, some pages such as the storage section, were considered advanced for science teachers with only a moderate background in chemistry, particularly those in primary school.

4 Concluding remarks and further work

An online resource for chemical safety work in school science and chemistry education has been developed. The resource is based on European legislation and covers the most important parts of HSE related work in school science and chemistry education. The content of the website was chosen with background in a survey answered by teachers and teacher educators in the participating countries and from the experiences of the participants of the project. Green chemistry is introduced in the resource, with examples of elaborated laboratory activities. The resource is available in the following languages: English, Finnish, Norwegian, Slovenian, and Swedish.

Further work will include informing the community of the existence of the resource and continued improvement. We also intend to add more substances to the label generator and provide more examples of risk assessments as recommended by ASE. If the resource is to be further developed, one important area is to make training materials for teachers. The resource could also be further improved by adding videos and simulations as materials that can be used in the work with issues concerning Health, Safety and Environment in schools.


Corresponding author: Svein Tveit, Department of Chemistry, University of Oslo, Sem Sælands vei 26, Oslo, Norway, E-mail:

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Johannes Pernaa, Kirsten Fiskum and Jenny Olander for their valuable contributions in writing this paper. We would also like to thank all of the participants in the ORCheSSE project for their contributions to the project.

  1. Author contributions: All the authors have accepted responsibility for the entire content of this submitted manuscript and approved submission.

  2. Research funding: This project has been co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.

  3. Conflict of interest statement: The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding this article.

Abbreviations

ASE

Association for Science Education

CLEAPSS

Consortium of Local Educational Authorities for the Provision of Science Service

ECHA

European Chemicals Agency

HSE

Health, Safety and Environment

ORCheSSE

Online Resource for Chemical Safety in Science Education

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Received: 2022-10-28
Accepted: 2023-06-28
Published Online: 2023-07-13

© 2023 the author(s), published by De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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