Lesson learned: Eye protection

Researcher’s glasses after explosion. One lens and a temple bar have been blown away. The other lens is shattered. (Credit: UC Berkeley Office of Environment, Health & Safety)

Researcher’s glasses after explosion. One lens and a temple bar have been blown away. The other lens is shattered. (Credit: UC Berkeley Office of Environment, Health & Safety)

From the University of California, Berkeley, a lesson learned about wearing eye protection:

A graduate student researcher was working at a laboratory bench synthesizing approximately one gram of diazonium perchlorate crystals. The student was transferring synthesized perchlorate using a metal spatula when the material exploded, sending porcelain fragments into his face. The fragments shattered the lenses of his eyeglasses and lacerated his left cornea.

A researcher in an adjacent room assisted the student to the eyewash and called campus police. The student was taken to the hospital where he underwent surgery on his eye, and treatment for several facial lacerations. He was released from the hospital that same evening.

Read the report for more details.

(h/t Chemjobber, who also posted about this and received a rather disheartening comment from a UC Berkeley graduate student)

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. These accidents are horrific enough to cause administrators in smaller colleges to virtually shut down research work, if not chemistry departments altogether out of fear of liability/litigation.

  2. A major frustration of being a full time chemical safety professional is the sense of failure when a totally preventable incident occurs. This is one of those times. The incident report is good, but really does not drill down into why the student followed some of the precautions and not others. There is an underlying cause that allowed him to select FR clothing but not appropriate eye-face protection. That cause is not addressed.

    The corrective actions are good and highly prescriptive; but they do not go into the underlying causes of the incident.

    Having to get PI permission every time you work w/ perchlorates sounds good, but only will be protective if the PI stops and pays attention to how the anion will be used. And this may be excessive (which dilutes safety awareness) if for example, sodium perchlorate is being used as an iron ligand in aqueous solutions.

    Frustrating, frustrating, frustrating …

  3. What a mess, where to begin?

    Diazonium salts are generally explosive (the report does not indicate which one was involved). Perchlorates, especially organic, are explosive. A diazonium perchlorate??!! Absolutely explosive. Did the PI know this? If so, what in the world was he/she thinking?!

    After reading this post I turned to Google in an attempt to learn more. The first hit was a cached Word document, apparently a initial draft of this incident report. That draft indicates that the affected individual was a first year graduate student. This is missing from the final report, so either the initial draft was wrong or it was purposely omitted from the official report. It would be good to know which is correct. Here is the cached draft: http://tinyurl.com/osmvpl7

    The report refers to an SOP, but a copy of the SOP is not provided. It can be critiqued, however. For example, the report states that the student was wearing a lab coat and nitrile gloves, as called for in the “Standard Operating Procedure for Potentially Explosive Compounds”. Really? A lab coat and nitrile gloves are adequate protection against shrapnel? Unless you have the same PPE used by bomb disposal squads, flesh and bone should be nowhere near explosive compounds. Everything must be done behind a blast shield and using the correct tools designed for explosives work. The student is lucky he was hit in the glasses, a few inches lower and he could have been hit in the carotid artery. PPE is your last line of defense. In the case of explosives few if any labs have PPE capable of providing that protection. Perhaps this is stressed in the SOP, and the report does indicate that the student failed to use a hood sash/shield, but this point is buried several bullets down in the report when it should be at the very top.

    Read through the document referenced in the report – I did – and see if you can find any guidance whatsoever on the handling of explosive compounds. I can’t find any. It’s the one titled “Campus Guidelines for Potentially Explosive Chemical Safe Storage and Handling” at the bottom with the pdf hyperlink. It’s woefully inadequate for dealing with the type of chemical involved in this incident, to the point of being irrelevant.

    The lesson learned here is NOT about eye protection. It’s much, much more than that.

  4. An anonymous UCB chemistry student posted an affirmation at Chemjobber that the student in this incident is, in fact, a first year graduate student. How a first year student came to be making a diazonium perchlorate is a story and lesson learned of its own.

  5. I’m a grad student in Chemistry and I won’t blame my PI for my stupidity. If you don’t wear PPE, or read MSDS for the chemicals you’re working with, then it’s your fault. Taking shortcuts is not what EH&S recommend. Stop blaming and take responsibility.