Report on U Hawaii explosion delayed until late May

This steel tank ruptured during the explosion, which severed a researcher’s arm. Credit: Honolulu Fire Department

This steel tank ruptured during the explosion, which severed a researcher’s arm. Credit: Honolulu Fire Department

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 problem.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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6 Comments

  1. “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 problem.”

    There are some who would maintain that it is a *serious* “systemic problem” that university faculty supervisors are not held accountable* for ensuring safety training, safe equipment, safe working conditions, and adequate supervision to ensure that the researchers comply with all safety related expectations. The faculty supervisors hire, fire, and share publication credit with their undergraduate and graduate students and postdocs, and the faculty supervisors are the ones who can make a difference in lab behavior.

    *Accountable = Until the hiring, tenure, and further promotion and retention of faculty are based on safety accountability, nothing much is going to change.

  2. Someone at UH should take responsibility for this horrific incident. The loss to the researcher is huge in this incident. The group involved in this experiment should stop similar experiment until all controls are in place. There are many fatalities reported during mixing incompatible gases. Mixing gases is always risky business, and always requires proper system and skills.

  3. Who exactly considers UC Center for Laboratory Safety a national leader in laboratory safety? My understanding is they have published a couple papers and have held three or four workshops. Also based on the website, 12 board members and 1 staff seems a little top heavy to actually functions as a Center for Lab Safety.

  4. In my opinion, Eugene Y. Ngai, of Chemically Speaking LLC, is the expert to investigate this incident.

  5. “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 problem.”

    I’d say I’m skeptical of this conclusion while also admitting, in all fairness, that most universities likely would have had difficulty putting together a qualified review team to vet this setup or even knowing what expertise should be represented — even though a hydrogen explosion is the focus of attention and is the most probably cause of this incident, there are other tank failure modes that should have been evaluated prior to startup as well. I’ll readily admit that my institution does not have a process to ensure that something like this would get a proper design and operational hazard analysis. It is totally up to the PI to request assistance and pay for outside consultation, if needed.

  6. I cannot imagine even a most cursory safety review process that would fail to identify “We’re using hydrogen gas” as condition requiring considerable scrutiny and planning. Maybe casual use of hydrogen wasn’t a systemic problem, but I’d consider the failure of a safety review (or the absence of such a review) to identify this obvious of a risk can’t be anything but systemic. The lack of an qualified internal review team is not an excuse, but rather a symptom.