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Last Updated: Monday, 21 July, 2003, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
School fined over chemistry explosion
St Cuthbert's High School
The explosion happened at the school's science lab
A top Tyneside school has been ordered to pay more than 5,500 after pupils were hurt when a chemistry experiment went wrong.

Two pupils at St Cuthbert's High School in Newcastle needed hospital treatment after they were sprayed with a chemical during the A-level experiment, a court heard.

The school's governing body was fined 2,000 and ordered to pay 3,638 costs after it admitted responsibility for the explosion in the school's science laboratory.

It pleaded guilty to failing in its duty to protect its pupils under the Health and Safety Act at Gosforth Magistrates' Court.

Health and Safety Inspector Chris Lucas told the bench A-level pupils were undertaking a practical experiment to identify an unknown substance.

They were told to use Tollen's reagent, made up of ammonia, silver nitrate and caustic soda, to see if the compound was an aldehyde.

Hospital treatment

But the potentially dangerous Tollen's reagent was made up too long in advance, in too large a quantity and it exploded as one pupil put a pipette into the storage bottle, the court was told.

Mr Lucas said pupils were "showered" with the reagent and two of them needed hospital treatment after they were sprayed in the eye.

The student worst affected, who was 17 at the time of the accident in February 2002, needed a special biological dressing to repair the damage to his eye, Mr Lucas said.

He also suffered post traumatic stress, the inspector added.

Mr Lucas said the school should have realised the dangers of preparing the Tollen's reagent too far in advance as it was widely known it could become unstable within 30 minutes.

He added that the pupils affected were not wearing safety glasses.

'Nasty incident'

David Athey, defending, said St Cuthbert's, which has around 1,100 boys aged 11 to 18, had been in existence for 122 years.

He said: "Its reputation and pre-eminence as a school of excellence comes before it."

Mr Athey said the school had tightened up its health and safety procedures since the accident, which he said was an "alarming, nasty incident".

None of the pupils affected had suffered lasting damage to their health, he added.

Mr Athey said the experiment was required as part of the A-level chemistry syllabus and the school has since suggested a more modern alternative should be brought in.



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