Report on U Hawaii explosion delayed until the end of June
May24

Report on U Hawaii explosion delayed until the end of June

From the University of Hawaii, the latest on one of the investigations into the March explosion that caused a postdoctoral researcher to lose one of her arms: The independent investigation into the March 16, 2016 explosion in a University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa laboratory is now expected to be complete by end of June 2016. The University of California Center for Laboratory Safety, retained by UH to conduct the investigation, has arranged to test certain materials. The final completion of the investigation report is dependent on the testing and the test results. The investigation was originally to be completed by the end of April, then the University of Hawaii said late...

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Who pays when an undergraduate is injured in a lab?
May10

Who pays when an undergraduate is injured in a lab?

When an undergraduate researcher accidentally synthesized a diazonium salt at Texas Tech University in March and got himself an an ambulance trip to the local hospital, the incident raised a new issue for the school, wrote chemistry professor Dominick Casadonte to the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list: The student was wearing his PPE, everything was done with safety in mind. He suffered only superficial lacerations on his hands. The biggest expense for him was the ambulance ride to the emergency room and being treated (no stitches were needed; I think he was given neosporin and sent home after a 2 hour wait). When he contacted his insurance company, they wanted to know if they were the ones who should have to pay for the ambulance ride, etc. He asked the professor overseeing him (the student was doing undergraduate research for course credit, and according to legal, does not fall under workman’s compensation). Texas Tech is a “self-insured” institution. The department has been instructed not to pay, as it would be an admission of liability, and could open the doors for payouts for any minor freshman chemistry lab accident, for example. The university legal would perhaps need to deal with the person’s insurance company or a lawyer, should the student sue. My question to all of you: We are researching how other universities deal with the issue of who pays for medical care for minor accidents. What do your universities do? How do you deal with the financial aspects of accidents? Are your institutions insured? If so, for liability only? Liability and damages to infrastructure? I’ve said this before about workman’s compensation for graduate students and postdocs, but now I’ll apply it to undergraduates as well: Find out what your university’s policies are and what you will have to pay for personally if you’re injured. If expenses are going to come out of your health insurance, assuming that your insurance company doesn’t protest, then what are your deductible and/or copays for ambulances or emergency room visits? Schools have a range of policies, as the responses to Casadonte’s question...

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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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