When is something an accident?
Jun15

When is something an accident?

This New York Times story from May reminded me of some people’s distaste for calling laboratory incidents “accidents”: It’s No Accident: Advocates Want to Speak of Car ‘Crashes’ Instead Roadway fatalities are soaring at a rate not seen in 50 years, resulting from crashes, collisions and other incidents caused by drivers. Just don’t call them accidents anymore. That is the position of a growing number of safety advocates, including grass-roots groups, federal officials and state and local leaders across the country. They are campaigning to change a 100-year-old mentality that they say trivializes the single most common cause of traffic incidents: human error. “When you use the word ‘accident,’ it’s like, ‘God made it happen,’ ” Mark Rosekind, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said at a driver safety conference this month at the Harvard School of Public Health. … Changing semantics is meant to shake people, particularly policy makers, out of the implicit nobody’s-fault attitude that the word “accident” conveys, they said. The semantics of accident came up around the Honolulu Fire Department investigation report about the University of Hawaii explosion. The fire department called the event an “accident” because the explosion wasn’t set off intentionally. But the University of Hawaii lab was working with a hazardous mixture of gases using inappropriate equipment. The information in the fire department report indicates that the explosion was foreseeable and preventable. Is it therefore appropriate to call the explosion an accident? Does anyone know of a lab incident that could truly be called accidental in that that chemicals involved behaved contrary to their known...

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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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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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