Safety Precautions When Using Flames in Science

By Shelley Frost
Safety gear reduces the risk of injury.

Science experiments often need a source of heat to cause the desired reactions. A Bunsen burner is a tool found in science labs that produces that heat, but the open flame creates the risk of catching clothing or other objects on fire. Some materials used in science experiments are flammable, creating additional risk. By taking safety precautions, you minimize those risks.

Personal Safety

Your personal appearance before you even light the flame is a key safety consideration. Anything that is loose or dangling can potentially come into contact with the flame. Wear clothing that fits snugly to reduce the chances of the material catching fire. Participants with long hair should secure it away from the face so it doesn't fall down into the flame. Remove any long jewelry that might reach the flame. Safety gear is also key. Wear goggles when using the flame, especially if you're heating a glass container or using chemicals.

Equipment Inspection

A Bunsen burner uses gas to create the flame often used in science experiments. Never assume that the equipment is in working condition. An inspection before each use allows you to check the gas valve and hoses. Look for any defects that could cause the burner to work improperly, such as kinking or cracks in the hose that carries the gas to the burner. Check the connection between the gas valve and the hose to ensure that it doesn't leak.

Material Setup

A clear workspace prevents accidental ignition of objects such as books, papers and science experiment materials. Set up the Bunsen burner on a solid, flat surface to avoid tipping. Keep the flame away from any combustible materials. Gather all of the necessary materials for the experiment before lighting the flame so you don't have to leave it unsupervised. Have your lighter or striker ready so you can light the flame as soon as you turn on the gas to the Bunsen burner. If others are in the lab with you, let them know you are lighting a flame.

Safe Flame Use

A Bunsen burner allows you to control the flame by adjusting the collar that controls air flow. The flame needed varies by experiment, so find out that information before you put anything over the lit burner. Tongs allow you to safely hold items over the flames. Follow the experiment steps exactly, using the flame only as indicated to avoid injury or explosion. When you are finished with the flame, shut it off completely, ensuring that the gas valve is completely shut off. Allow the Bunsen burner and any items held over the flame to cool before touching them.