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Put health and safety first when dealing with VW Polos and pregnant women

Unlike Mr Roving Mechanic, I don't claim to know it all, but I do know that I should never swallow screenwash

Unlike Mr Roving Mechanic, I don't claim to know it all, but I do know that I should never swallow screenwash

When the washer jets on my wife's Volkswagen Polo stopped working, I was forced to examine some of my beliefs about school science health and safety. It was to the fore in my mind anyway, after yet another report in a newspaper claiming that teachers were scared to do whizz-bang experiments for fear of being sued.

I've asked those at the front line about this and I'd like to repeat what I've said before. In those schools where less practical work is taking place, only a tiny number cite health and safety as the reason.

Back to the Polo. When washer jets stop working, the first thing you do is to top them up. Actually, that's the second thing you do. The first is to feel stupid for not having checked the level more often. As we shall see, this self-flagellation may turn out to be misplaced. If the washers still don't work, you listen for the pump whirring, because if it whirrs and nothing comes out, there's a blockage somewhere. No whirring and you check the fuse, or try to. You surf the internet. No definitive answer.

At this point, the amateur mechanic might check every fuse, worrying slightly that the Polo might say: "I can't let you do that, Dave," or begin singing Daisy, Daisy as vital systems shut down. But it's cold and dark, so you call RAC Motability instead. Mr Roving Mechanic says it's not the fuse. Either the pump's frozen or it's burned out.

Mr Physicist has an idea. Early the next morning, I decide to try to thaw out a potential freeze-up. The washer bottle is buried behind panels, so I'm going to have to thaw by adding warm water. Problem. The washer bottle's full. I siphon some screen fluid out, something I'd never do at work (HS point 1). This involves accidentally drinking a small amount of ethylene glycol, water and detergent mix. It isn't nice and the ploy doesn't work.

I take the VW to the garage, where it turns out that Mr Roving Mechanic missed a blown fuse. Off to work, and I feel yuck. I tell my chemistry colleague who is unconcerned by the tiny amount of screen fluid I have imbibed. I still feel rotten and eat lots of sweeties to take the imagined taste away.

Now (HS point 2) there are some instances where the stress caused by the perception of harm is great enough to be harmful in its own right. This doesn't really apply to eejits and screenwash, but there are far better examples in SSERC's New and Expectant Mothers guide.

Gregor Steele, Scottish Schools Education Research Centre, sometimes hankers back to the Skoda Years of easy-to-work-on cars.

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