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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“We felt the explosion rattle the floor and walls eight floors up…”
Apr26

“We felt the explosion rattle the floor and walls eight floors up…”

We’ve had a lot of comments at C&EN about my story, “Spark from pressure gauge caused University of Hawaii explosion, fire department says.” I thought I’d flag a few of them here: I am a researcher in the same building as the HNEI, although not on the same floor, and not in the same field. We felt the explosion rattle the floor and walls eight floors up – Dr. Ekins-Coward is truly lucky to be alive. The incident has prompted campus-wide laboratory safety re-certification efforts here, particularly with regard to pressurized gas cylinders, whether or not they contain flammable gases. PIs, please take the time to discuss with your lab staff and students proper gas handling – students and staff, if you see red flags, don’t let up until your PI fixes the issue. It really sucks having something like this happen in your University, let alone your own lab building and community. — I can empathize with this researcher…. I work with Hydrogen, CO, and O2 in the lab and did not consider the issue with fires…. I will conduct a SAP review and modify our current working conditions. I teach a safety course and work closely with SAChE but and aware of the LFL and UFL of H2… we as researchers get tunnel vision. I am very sorry it took someone to lose an arm for me to realize the danger I put myself and my researcher at…. I know better. — Where I work, an experiment of this type would never be allowed to become operational until a subject matter expert (or probably a team of them, in this case) fully inspected the design and the operating parameters. Especially if the system was built by a new member of a research team. A full hazard control plan, in writing, would be written up and signed off by anyone touching the experiment. In my world, the subject matter experts are drawn from research scientists familiar with the experimental designs. Since it was a pressurized system containing an explosive hydrogen gas mixture, I suspect that at minimum, there would be an emphasis on a design that minimized risk including volume limits, an inspection for electrical safety, and likely, some sort of containment system would be incorporated to protect against just this sort of catastrophe. A reviewer would probably ask “is there a safer way to introduce the gas mixture into the reactor?”. These sorts of intensive safety programs add time and cost to the business of doing science (but are ubiquitous in industry and government labs), but the flip side is what we see in these pictures: when...

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U Hawaii story now has photos
Apr22

U Hawaii story now has photos

Just a quick FYI to Safety Zone readers to note that my U Hawaii story from earlier this week, “Spark from pressure gauge caused University of Hawaii explosion, fire department says,” now has photos provided by the Honolulu Fire Department.

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Spark from pressure gauge caused University of Hawaii explosion
Apr20

Spark from pressure gauge caused University of Hawaii explosion

From my story at C&EN: An explosion last month that caused a University of Hawaii, Manoa, postdoctoral researcher to lose an arm was caused by a spark from a digital pressure gauge that was not designed for use with flammable gases, says a Honolulu Fire Department investigation report. Go read the story for more, including some context about how the lab’s experimental set-up seems to have changed, based on a prior publication from the lab compared to what Ekins-Coward and the PI told investigators. The University of California Center for Laboratory Safety investigation report is expected to be finished by the end of this month. The Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division is also investigating the incident. Other coverage and commentary: U Hawaii story with recording of press briefing – Investigation continues into lab explosion at UH Chemjobber – More details on the UH-Manoa incident: explosion probably due to sparking pressure gauge KHON – Investigating entity hired by UH founded after similar laboratory explosion (KHON and other Hawaiian news organizations also had other stories, but this one went beyond just reporting the facts in the fire department report) Science – University of Hawaii lab explosion caused by inappropriate gauge Chemistry World – Hawaii lab explosion linked to safety failings Curiosity Science – Dear chemists: Please be...

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University leaders should be responsible for lab safety, report says
Apr14

University leaders should be responsible for lab safety, report says

From Andrea Widener’s story in C&EN: Presidents and chancellors of U.S. universities must take personal responsibility for changing the lab safety culture in academia, a new report says. The document, published by the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU), challenges top university officials to create high-level committees responsible for lab safety, to modify tenure and promotion requirements to include safety, and to promote open commutation about accidents and near-misses on campuses. Although the report contains other recommendations, the ones putting emphasis on university officials’ accountability are being viewed as most important by the report’s authors and other safety experts. Read Andrea’s story for more, or check out the report...

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Omission of experimental step was cause of explosion at Texas Tech
Apr13

Omission of experimental step was cause of explosion at Texas Tech

An undergraduate researcher was injured at Texas Tech University on March 10, when a “vial exploded while the student was collecting a dry precipitate powder with a metal spatula,” according to the Texas Tech “lessons learned” report about the incident. The student and others in the lab were all wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, and the student suffered only superficial injuries, the report says. “The cause of the accident is believed to be an omission of a hydrochloric acid precipitation step during the recreation of a synthesis reaction taken from literature,” the report says. “This allowed the unintentional formation of a diazonium salt that exploded during collection for further analysis.” Texas Tech’s recommended actions to prevent something similar from happening in the future: Researchers working on synthesis reactions with anticipated energetic products or intermediates need to be cautious of products created during the reaction series. As part of a regular hazard analysis conducted at the outset of experimental work, researchers should review and update their Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to incorporate the possible hazard(s) of intermediate products. In this case, the intermediate product should have been identified as energetic on the basis of the reaction series being run. All work with potentially energetic materials should be performed with plastic tools to reduce the possibility of friction and static discharge creating an initiating spark. The University of California, Berkeley, also had a metal spatula versus diazonium compound explosion last year, although in that case the graduate student involved in the incident knew he was working with a diazonium perchlorate. He was also not wearing appropriate eye protection, and porcelain funnel fragments lacerated one of his...

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