COMMENT: Prioritise safety in schools

In our last edition we carried an article in which pupils and teachers at Mandwandwe High School in Bulawayoa��s Nkulumane suburb were reported to have been exposed to poisonous bromine in their science laboratories, that are used by more than 1 000 pupils and teachers. A�

Sadly, a science teacher lost his life allegedly as a result of the exposure to the poisonous fumes from the laboratories.A� We also understand that the Bulawayo Fire Brigade had warned the school against using the laboratories in the wake of some explosion that resulted in the fumes.

Our sources indicated that at least six teachers were seriously affected by the poisoning with one reported to have collapsed last week just before the closure of schools, in symptoms that are also being linked to the lab incident.

It is our hope that the education authorities will get to the bottom of the issue at the school.A� When such an incident takes place, there is a tendency to finger point, sometimes even at the expense of looking at the broader safety challenge that such an incident exposes. The city, the province and indeed the whole country, has hundreds, if not thousands of schools with laboratories.

While it is important to untangle the mystery of why the school authorities failed to heed advice from the Fire Brigade until tragedy befell the school, parents need to be re-assured that when they send their children to school, they are going to a safe environment.A� That is very important.

It is in this vein that we hope that our schools are adequately capacitated to handle the various chemicals stocked in their laboratories, can account for all the chemicals so that they do not find their way into wrong hands and that there are periodic checks to ensure that safety standards are maintained.

In the absence of such assurances, parents would have every reason to be worried each time their children go to school.A� Also, this touches on the conditions of service of the teachers that are entitled to working in a safe environment.

At a time when we are short of teachers, especially those that teach science, we should be seen to be going out of our way to motivate our children to take up science subjects without the trepidation of what might happen to them in future in the course of their careers.

We wait with bated breath for the education authoritiesa�� report on the Mandwandwe debacle and hopefully we can also be assured that laboratories in the region have also been given a clean bill of health.A� We owe it to our children.

Schools should not be hard hat areas but be areas that teach competence in handling of various substances, especially gases that are now used extensively in many households.A� Safety should be our motto. .

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