Students suffered burns, eye injuries at Donghua University
Sep28

Students suffered burns, eye injuries at Donghua University

Three Donghua University graduate students in the School of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, & Bioengineering were injured in an incident involving potassium permanganate, according to the university and local news reports. The university says in a Sept. 23 post on the microblogging site Weibo that the incident is still being investigated. Two of the students were taken to the hospital, where they were treated for facial burns and eye injuries, the Sept. 23 post says. One of the two hospitalized students required eye surgery and further treatment. The third injured student received abrasions and was not hospitalized, the University posted on Sept. 21. The Sigma-Aldrich Safety Data Sheet for potassium permanganate notes that it is an oxidizer that can cause skin corrosion and serious eye damage. It is also toxic if consumed orally by humans. I’ve e-mailed the dean of the Donghua School Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, & Bioengineering to find out more about the incident, but so far he has not responded to me. If anyone who reads Chinese would like to go through the 44 pages of comments of Weibo and let me know if there’s any more information there, I’d welcome...

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University of Hawaii faces $115,500 fine for lab explosion
Sep27

University of Hawaii faces $115,500 fine for lab explosion

From my story at C&EN: The University of Hawaii faces a total $115,500 fine for 15 workplace safety violations after a laboratory explosion in March on the university’s Manoa campus. Postdoctoral researcher Thea Ekins-Coward, who worked for the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, lost one of her arms in the explosion. You can read the rest here, including a full list of the citations. All of the citations were labeled as “serious” and given the maximum state penalty of $7,700 each. Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) watchers will look at that $7,700 number and wonder why it’s so low. Earlier this year, OSHA increased its maximum penalty for a serious violation to $12,471. States that operate their own occupational safety and health plans are required to match or meet the federal civil penalties. Hawaii has not yet updated its civil penalties because the federal guidance was issued too late in the Hawaii legislative session this year, Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division spokesman William G. Kuntsman says. For more about the OSHA fine increases and other ways the agency is looking to strengthen consequences for companies that endanger workers, see my story from earlier this year, “Chemical employers to face tougher worker safety...

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“They appear confident that what happened to other people won’t happen to them”
Jul21

“They appear confident that what happened to other people won’t happen to them”

Looking at this story about a particular bluff in Oregon’s Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, is there an analogy to be made about research lab safety? The “Pedestal Rock” is on a notorious sandstone bluff at Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, which is fenced off and bordered by signs warning people not to go there. Seven people have died in the area since 2009. Six fatal falls have taken place during the past two years. Rescue efforts by the local fire district and U.S. Coast Guard cost upward of $21,000 per hour, often topping out near $106,000. Yet people continue to flood past the fence and signs. Adults, teenagers, grandparents, photographers and even parents with small children disregard the warnings. “We’re not seeing much confusion about what the current signs and fence mean,” said Chris Havel, spokesman for the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. “Even people who are aware of the deaths walk right past the fence and signs into that area. They appear confident that what happened to other people won’t happen to them.” … Starting last month, [Park Ranger Lisa Stevenson] patrols the fence at Cape Kiwanda. Leading with friendliness and facts, she looks to start a dialogue rather than a confrontation, even when people don’t want to hear it. h/t...

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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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When is something an accident?
Jun15

When is something an accident?

This New York Times story from May reminded me of some people’s distaste for calling laboratory incidents “accidents”: It’s No Accident: Advocates Want to Speak of Car ‘Crashes’ Instead Roadway fatalities are soaring at a rate not seen in 50 years, resulting from crashes, collisions and other incidents caused by drivers. Just don’t call them accidents anymore. That is the position of a growing number of safety advocates, including grass-roots groups, federal officials and state and local leaders across the country. They are campaigning to change a 100-year-old mentality that they say trivializes the single most common cause of traffic incidents: human error. “When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like, ‘God made it happen,’ ” Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said at a driver safety conference this month at the Harvard School of Public Health. … Changing semantics is meant to shake people, particularly policy makers, out of the implicit nobody’s-fault attitude that the word “accident” conveys, they said. The semantics of accident came up around the Honolulu Fire Department investigation report about the University of Hawaii explosion. The fire department called the event an “accident” because the explosion wasn’t set off intentionally. But the University of Hawaii lab was working with a hazardous mixture of gases using inappropriate equipment. The information in the fire department report indicates that the explosion was foreseeable and preventable. Is it therefore appropriate to call the explosion an accident? Does anyone know of a lab incident that could truly be called accidental in that that chemicals involved behaved contrary to their known...

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