The dangers of glue guns, drills and more… a science perspective

glue gunAs the curriculum requires students to have concrete hands-on experience, this often involves building models, platforms, and simple apparatus to demonstrate science principles. As a result teachers frequently supply soldering guns, hot glue guns, hammers, nails, screw drivers, drills and hand saws. Students in my science department have delighted in building such diverse projects as hydraulic systems to demonstrate mechanical advantage, acrylic models of Candu reactors to show how the rods can be exchanged without shutting down the reactor, model electric and solar cars that demonstrate gear ratios. Safety equipment included splash proof goggles to prevent projectiles from getting in their eyes, and leather palmed work gloves to prevent burns from hot glue and the soldering guns. To some, this equipment requirement may seem over the top. The following two incidents may change their mind:

1) While working on a turbine project, a grade 12 student dropped hot glue on her unprotected hand. It formed a drip that was 2 cm long and .5 cm wide. Without informing me, she picked it off as it solidified. This removed enough skin to form a trough that was very deep, and seemed to have removed 2 or 3 layers of skin. I immediately ran a slow stream of cold water over the burn. We bandaged it, and sent her to the nearby health unit. It never became infected, and the blood vessels seem to have been cauterized by the hot glue. For future projects, I made a hot glue station consisting of a board to catch the glue drips, work gloves and goggles. Popsicle sticks were supplied to be used as spreader sticks. Students were given “just-in-time instructions regarding the proper use of the hot glue gun. I also made stations for drilling, cutting (hand saws only) and soldering when these were required. In this way I could easily supervise the project work.

2) My wife is an artist and owns a gallery in the 1000 Islands. In January, she was using a cordless drill to attach D clips on the back of a picture frame. She needed to attach 4 very small screws into a very soft wood. As she leaned over a small amount of her hair was “sucked” into the vents at the back of the drill. A large strand of hair (2-3 cm in diameter) was pulled into the drill and the drill rode up her head to within 2 inches of her scalp. Mercifully the drill stopped. As she was alone in the gallery, she bent down and unplugged the drill. She then attempted to extract her hair. Luckily her attempt was successful. Later I took the drill apart to remove the rest of her hair in order to get the drill working again. In my classroom, in addition to insisting on gloves and goggles, I would also ask students with long hair to tie it up in a bun, put it into a pony tail and tuck it into their shirt or use a hair net. I would establish a hand drill station and give students just-in-time instructions regarding the safe use of a drill.

If you still think these are isolated incidents, you can read about other incidents involving tools not generally associated with Science courses. Click on the links below.


«««Submitted by a STAO/APSO member

Learning by Accident describes real-life lab accidents or incidents are recounted and explained. The goal is to highlight the consequence of ignoring safety rules so that science educators will be further encouraged to become knowledgeable, and to take appropriate action, in areas of safety that affect their daily activities in the science classroom.

Submissions are encouraged. Anonymity will be guaranteed. Please send written descriptions to:, Chair, STAO Safety Committee.