The department I work in is keen to give young people the opportunity to experience life as a chemist. So we offer pupils from local schools work experience placements. But before the pupils come to us we have to be vetted by qualified organisations who make sure we are a safe place for the young people to spend a week or two.
So far so normal.
But then comes the health and safety forms which invariably contain the statement:
Use of chemicals in any process is prohibited for young persons.
And so begins the merry dance which typically goes something like this…
Me: “About your health and safety forms.”
Me: “Well it says that the work experience pupils can’t use chemicals.”
Them: “That’s right.”
Me: “I’ve got some problems with that. Firstly, the young people are coming to work in a chemistry department so banning the use of chemicals makes it all a bit pointless doesn’t it?”
Them: “Well it’s a rule we enforce on everyone to make sure the pupils are safe.”
Me: “OK, but what do you mean by chemicals?”
Them: “You’re the chemist you tell me.”
Me: “Can they do the washing up?”
Them: “Yes of course.”
Me: “But the washing up liquid contains chemicals and the water is a chemical and so, for that matter, is the air they are breathing.”
Them: “Now you are just being silly, of course we mean harmful chemicals.”
Me: “Would you care to tell me what you mean by harmful?”
Them: “Look, you are the chemist shouldn’t you know that?”
Me: “Yes, I do. So I’ll make sure they don’t have any salt on their chips.”
Them: “What are you talking about?”
Me: “Salt is a chemical and its harmful. So I’ll be sure to stop them eating any whilst they are in my care.
Them: “Now you’re being ridiculous.”
Me: ” Am I? The point I am making is that your rule about banning the use of chemicals is meaningless. Its unenforceable. Everything we encounter contains chemicals. How about I can show you all the COSHH forms for the procedures that the pupils will be doing? They are all low risk and so they will get a taste of chemistry all done in a safe and controlled way. Then can you remove the silly statement banning chemicals from your document? ”
Them: “I’m not sure we can do that.”
And so on…
It drives me nuts.