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How to safely operate a Bunsen burner

Bunsen burners are small gas burners with an adjustable flame, usually used in professional and school science laboratories to heat substances (such as liquids) in test tubes, beakers and flasks, to carry out experiments. As pupils at school, one of the first pieces of lab equipment you encountered was probably a Bunsen burner. If you work in a science laboratory, you may find yourself using a Bunsen burner daily, and using them does not come without the risk of accidents happening. Did you known that a Bunsen burner actually has three temperatures?

The lowest temperature (30°c) is the light orange safety flame, whilst the middle temperature (500°c) appears as a blue flame, and can often be difficult to see. The highest temperature (700°c) is the roaring light blue flame, which you’ll hear as well as see. Most experiments call for use of the middle blue flame, which is still hot enough to cause serious burns, if you’re not careful.

Safety precautions when using a Bunsen burner

A Bunsen burner provides heat by igniting gas, so it’s important to keep other substances which could ignite or combust away from the flame, and follow strict safety regulations to stay safe in the laboratory at all times. Accident Advice Helpline has come up with a safety guide to help reduce the risk of Bunsen burner accidents:

  • Wear the right clothing: You should wear safety goggles at all times, as there is always the risk of a glass test tube exploding and causing serious eye injuries. Make sure you tuck in loose clothing to prevent your clothes catching on fire.
  • Carry out safety checks before lighting the burner: It’s vital to carry out some inspections and checks before lighting a Bunsen burner. The rubber tubing which connects the burner to the gas first needs to be checked. This should be approved, rated tubing, and you should check that it is free from holes, cracks, splits or pinched points before using, and that it is properly connected to the gas tap.
  • Make sure the gas tap is off: Before lighting the Bunsen burner, you should check the gas tap has been switched off and securely attach the hosing before turning on the gas. Failure to do this could result in a build-up of gas that could combust or ignite.
  • Tie your hair back: Hair is highly flammable and if it catches fire, it could cause serious facial burns and permanent scarring.
  • Keep other equipment a safe distance away: Notepads, pens, pencils and other equipment should never be left close to the burner.
  • Light the burner: Make sure you close the air hole and always use a long spill to light the burner, never a match, to avoid burning yourself.

It’s also important that you know what you are doing when using a Bunsen burner – don’t try to heat materials that will combust or explode.

How dangerous are Bunsen burners really?

There have been plenty of stories in the news about accidents caused by burners in school science labs – in fact, one school in Virginia, USA even banned ‘open-flame’ science experiments altogether, after five pupils were left with burns following a Bunsen burner accident. There are things that school science departments can do to reduce the risk of accidents happening, and if you have been injured whilst working in a lab due to your employer’s negligence, or if your child has been injured after an accident at school that you believe could have been prevented, you could make a claim for personal injury compensation with Accident Advice Helpline.

School science departments (and labs where burners are used) should always carry out risk assessments, asking questions such as ‘How likely is it that harm will actually be caused?’, ‘What are the chances of something going wrong?’ and ‘How serious would any injury be?’ This allows for precautions to be put in place and followed, to reduce the risk of accidents happening. It’s important that lab technicians, scientists and school students are shown how to operate a Bunsen burner safely before being left unattended to carry out experiments, and that they are aware of the risks involved.

What injuries can a Bunsen burner cause?

With such hot flames, the most common injuries caused by Bunsen burners are burns. You may be lucky enough to escape with a minor burn to your hand or arm, if you try to light a burner with a match rather than a spill. On the other hand, if a test tube or beaker explodes or materials ignite, you could suffer serious burns to your arms, legs, body and face, even eye and facial injuries from glass shards, if you are not wearing adequate eye protection such as safety goggles. If you have been injured and you feel that your employer or teachers could have done more to prevent your accident from happening, why not get in touch with Accident Advice Helpline?

Claiming compensation after a laboratory accident

If you have suffered serious burns, you may need treatment in hospital, which may include surgery and/or skin grafts to reduce and prevent scarring. Serious burns could lead to permanent scars which can affect you psychologically as well as physically, changing the rest of your life. Even if you have suffered minor burns, your confidence can be affected and it will take time for your injuries to heal physically. You can get in touch with Accident Advice Helpline on 0800 689 5659 today to find out if you’re eligible to claim compensation after your laboratory accident.

If your child has been injured in a science accident at school, we can offer expert advice and support at this difficult time. You could be entitled to compensation not only for your injuries, but also for how they have impacted your life – for example if you need to take a few months off work, you could claim compensation for your financial losses (wages) during this time.