Gas cylinder storage at the University of Hawaii
Jul13

Gas cylinder storage at the University of Hawaii

When C&EN published my story about the fire department investigation into the explosion at the University of Hawaii (UH) that cost postdoc Thea Ekins-Coward one of her arms, we got many comments about whether or how the gas cylinders were secured. The fire department report and photos had little information about that issue. The University of California Center for Laboratory Safety (UCCLS) report released on July 1, however, devotes a section of its recommendations to how gas cylinder safety could be improved at UH. Note that Honolulu is not at high risk for earthquakes–according to the U.S. Geological Survey, it’s roughly equivalent to Sacramento or Las Vegas. Consequently, things that Coastal California scientists might need to do, such as double-strapping cylinders, are not required. That said, there was still room to do better. This group of ten cylinders, for example, which included hydrogen, carbon dioxide, helium, and carbon monoxide: Was secured as: Comments UCCLS: The typical gas cylinder clamp with cloth strap is only designed to support a single cylinder. Thus, a cluster of ten cylinders should be in a dedicated gas rack. Second, only cylinders of similar size should be secured together. Securing large and small cylinders together results in one cylinder size being secured at the wrong height. (Technical report, page 9) As for the two oxygen cylinders: UCCLS says: ● Both oxygen cylinders were strapped to the biosafety cabinet with a safety strap as required by OSHA and CGA P-1. However, the safety straps of both cylinders loosened as a result of the force of the explosion. Although not required by HIOSH, chaining gas cylinders presents a safer option. ● One of the oxygen cylinders was open when the explosion occurred and vented its gas content into the laboratory. However, it did not cause an oxygen enriched fire which would have led to more damage and possibly cause the adjacent oxygen cylinder that was closed to vent through the CG-1 (Rupture disk) pressure relief device. (Technical report, page 30) In another lab, UCCLS found this one, captioned “Gas cylinder attached to an adjustable shelf in a bookcase.” I don’t know which lab this was in, but judging from the mess on the floor and exposed insulation at the back, I’m guessing it was one of the labs adjacent to the one in which the explosion happened. The report notes that for two adjacent labs, cabinets were blown off the walls. UCCLS’s overall guidance on gas cylinder storage and use (Recommendations report, pages 7 to 10): Gas cylinders should be restrained by chains secured to a wall with Unistrut steel bars. In earthquake areas there should be...

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Second investigation report released regarding U Hawaii explosion
Jul01

Second investigation report released regarding U Hawaii explosion

Earlier today, the University of Hawaii released a second investigation report into the lab explosion that caused a postdoctoral researcher to lose one of her arms. This report was by the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety; the first was by the Honolulu Fire Department. Still to come is the one by the Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division. At the time of the explosion, postdoctoral researcher Thea Ekins-Coward had just finished combining hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen gases from high-pressure cylinders into a lower pressure container. The mixture was to be used as a feedstock to grow bacteria to produce bioplastics and biofuels. I’ve only made it through a quick read of the technical part of the report so far, but here are some quotes: This report was written to serve as a direct call to action for researchers, administrators and EHSO staff not only at the UH, but at all institutions of higher education that conduct research. The recommendations and lessons learned contained herein should be understood and addressed at all universities in order to help prevent laboratory accidents. (page 5) From the beginning of February until March 16, 2016 the gas storage tank was filled eleven times with varying H2:O2:CO2 mixtures, all in the explosive range, with pressures between 37 and 117 psig (1 atm = 14.7 psig). The experiments were reviewed by the PI and the postdoctoral researcher weekly to discuss improvements of the bacterial culture conditions. They assumed the process to be safe since they stayed well below the maximum pressure for which the gas storage tank was rated (140 psig). The lab received a laboratory safety inspection in January 2016, however, the use of the gas storage tank was not questioned because the inspection used a typical checklist focusing on storage of chemicals and chemical waste, gas cylinder storage, laboratory fume hood certification, and documentation of training. (page 6) In fact, before accepting the postdoctoral researcher into his lab the PI sent out a written interview that contained the following question: “What was your duty and responsibility for the Environmental Health and Safety in the laboratories?” … Including safety questions in an interview enables a PI to examine general safety perceptions and attitude of a candidate, which is not commonly done. The Investigative Team is not aware of guidelines for incorporating safety questions into such an interview process, hence the safety concern reflects the PI’s genuine interest in laboratory safety. (page 9) [The postdoc’s] interest in safety as it directly related to the experiments she conducted were expressed in meeting notes from 10/21/2015. These also reflect her safety training in the United...

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“Improve lab safety culture” webinar
Jun14

“Improve lab safety culture” webinar

Coming up on June 30 is a webinar “to familiarize EH&S professionals and researchers” with the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU) “Guide to implementing a Safety Culture in our Universities” that came out in April. From the webinar registration page: Learning Objectives: • What is the APLU/AAU Guide to Implementing a Safety Culture in Our Universities, and how is it different from other guidelines that came before (e.g., NAS and ACS guidelines)? • What is the role of the President or Chancellor, VPR, and EH&S leadership in implementing the recommendations? • How can EH&S best engage campus leadership and researchers in learning about and helping implement the guidelines and toolkit? • What are the recommendations and tools available to EH&S for developing or improving a culture of lab safety? • How can the research and health & safety communities get involved in updating the Guide by adding tools and resources? The moderator will be: Nancy Wayne, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Professor of Physiology, University of California, Los Angeles; APLU Lab Safety Task Force Member The panelists will be: Mark McClellan, Vice President for Research and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, Utah State University; APLU Lab Safety Task Force Co-Chair Taylor Eighmy, Vice Chancellor for Research & Engagement, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; APLU Lab Safety Task Force Co-Chair Kacy Redd, Director, Science & Mathematics Education Policy, APLU; APLU Lab Safety Task Force...

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Report on U Hawaii explosion delayed until the end of June
May24

Report on U Hawaii explosion delayed until the end of June

From the University of Hawaii, the latest on one of the investigations into the March explosion that caused a postdoctoral researcher to lose one of her arms: The independent investigation into the March 16, 2016 explosion in a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa laboratory is now expected to be complete by end of June 2016. The University of California Center for Laboratory Safety, retained by UH to conduct the investigation, has arranged to test certain materials. The final completion of the investigation report is dependent on the testing and the test results. The investigation was originally to be completed by the end of April, then the University of Hawaii said late...

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Who pays when an undergraduate is injured in a lab?
May10

Who pays when an undergraduate is injured in a lab?

When an undergraduate researcher accidentally synthesized a diazonium salt at Texas Tech University in March and got himself an an ambulance trip to the local hospital, the incident raised a new issue for the school, wrote chemistry professor Dominick Casadonte to the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list: The student was wearing his PPE, everything was done with safety in mind. He suffered only superficial lacerations on his hands. The biggest expense for him was the ambulance ride to the emergency room and being treated (no stitches were needed; I think he was given neosporin and sent home after a 2 hour wait). When he contacted his insurance company, they wanted to know if they were the ones who should have to pay for the ambulance ride, etc. He asked the professor overseeing him (the student was doing undergraduate research for course credit, and according to legal, does not fall under workman’s compensation). Texas Tech is a “self-insured” institution. The department has been instructed not to pay, as it would be an admission of liability, and could open the doors for payouts for any minor freshman chemistry lab accident, for example. The university legal would perhaps need to deal with the person’s insurance company or a lawyer, should the student sue. My question to all of you: We are researching how other universities deal with the issue of who pays for medical care for minor accidents. What do your universities do? How do you deal with the financial aspects of accidents? Are your institutions insured? If so, for liability only? Liability and damages to infrastructure? I’ve said this before about workman’s compensation for graduate students and postdocs, but now I’ll apply it to undergraduates as well: Find out what your university’s policies are and what you will have to pay for personally if you’re injured. If expenses are going to come out of your health insurance, assuming that your insurance company doesn’t protest, then what are your deductible and/or copays for ambulances or emergency room visits? Schools have a range of policies, as the responses to Casadonte’s question...

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Report on U Hawaii explosion delayed until late May
Apr28

Report on U Hawaii explosion delayed until late May

From the University of Hawaii regarding the March explosion that caused a postdoctoral researcher to lose one of her arms. UH retained the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety to investigate the incident, and that report was expected this week. The independent investigation into the March 16, 2016 explosion in a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa laboratory is now expected to be complete in mid to late May. It was initially expected to finish by the end of April. The University of California Center for Laboratory Safety, retained by UH to conduct the investigation, was unable to send materials involved in the explosion for testing until the Hawaiʻi State Occupational Safety and Health Division (HIOSH), the government agency investigating the accident, completed its review of the accident scene. HIOSH released the materials and scene to UH late last week. … In its preliminary investigation, the UC Center for Laboratory Safety, considered a national leader in laboratory safety, determined that the explosion was an isolated incident and not the result of a systemic...

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