UC Center for Laboratory Safety is investigating U Hawaii explosion

The explosion that injured a 29-year-old researcher on March 16 cracked the glass in the door of the lab where she was working. Credit: Allyson Blair/Hawaii News Now

The explosion that injured a 29-year-old researcher on March 16 cracked the glass in the door of the lab where she was working. Credit: Allyson Blair/Hawaii News Now

The University of Hawaii, Manoa, announced last week that the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety is investigating the March 16 explosion that caused UH postdoc Thea Ekins-Coward to lose an arm.

“The UC Laboratory Safety Team was on the Manoa campus the week of March 28 and the investigation is expected to be complete by the end of April,” the UH announcement said. “All preliminary indications are that the accident was an isolated incident and not the result of a systemic problem at Mānoa or intentional wrongdoing,” said UH Manoa Chancellor Robert Bley-Vroman in the statement.

The UC Center for Laboratory Safety was established at UC Los Angeles in 2011, two years after UCLA researcher Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji died from injuries sustained in a laboratory fire. The goals of the center are to support research, communication, and training programs in lab safety, according to its website. The UH investigation is the first one that the center has conducted, confirmed Craig Merlic, executive director of the center and an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA.

The investigation team members are:

  • Merlic
  • Imke Schroeder, research project manager of the UC Center for Laboratory Safety and adjunct associate professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics at UCLA
  • Kenneth Smith, board member of the UC Center for Laboratory Safety and executive director of environment, health and safety at the UC Office of the President
  • Eugene Ngai, president of Chemically Speaking, a specialty gas consulting company

The center “has extensive experience in laboratory safety and the investigating team will give the University of Hawaii advice on their safety programs related to this incident in addition to determining the root cause of the incident,” Merlic told C&EN. “We spent three days at the University of Hawaii and are following up on several lines of investigation.”

UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl declined to say how much UH is paying for the investigation.

The Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division is also investigating the incident and Ekins-Coward is receiving workers’ compensation benefits, C&EN reported two weeks ago.

Other coverage:
Chemjobber – The Institution speaks for itself and investigates itself
Science – Two investigations underway into University of Hawaii lab explosion

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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